"Enter the Void," "Wall Street," "Waiting for 'Superman'" and More

"This is your brain." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "This is your brain on a Gaspar Noé movie. More specifically, Enter the Void is the latest from the never uninteresting, sometimes exasperating Mr Noé, whose films, like Irrevérsible (2002), skew toward provocations, filled with flashes of genius and irredeemable nonsense. The title of Enter the Void, which sounds like both a dare and a fun-house attraction, makes sense in a work about death and other hard times, but it also expresses Mr Noé's bad-boy, punk attitude, which can be hard to take seriously. His insistence on representing ugly extremes (incest, rape, murder) can be especially wearisome, coming across as weak bids to shock his audience (épater la bourgeoisie, as the French poets once said), which, already expecting (perhaps eagerly) a Gaspar Noé freakout, is unlikely to have its world genuinely rocked. But bring it on, Gaspar! And so he does in Enter the Void, where, with beauty, mild and sharp jolts, and mesmerizing camerawork, he tries to open the doors of perception."

"Like a guttersnipe's update of Thornton Wilder's 1938 play Our Town, Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void concerns the post-death consciousness of a young person taken too soon, watching from the wings as life goes on heedlessly below." Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot: "In both cases, such spiritual lingering incites frustration, regret, loneliness. Like Our Town's Emily Webb, ripped from the universe after complications from childbirth, Enter the Void's cipher protagonist, American drug dealer Oscar, shot to death by police in a slimy Tokyo bar bathroom during a bust gone bad, witnesses a world bedeviled by progress (industrialization for Wilder, globalization for Noé) and compromised by pain but which is essentially worth living in. Ultimately, Emily will return to Earth for one day, to relive her twelfth birthday, and Oscar will be reborn; difficult but positive journeys to transcendence both, cathartic explorations of death that finally come out on the side of the living."

"Ever-roving, pyrotechnic, and catatonically beatific, the film's images may be trying to work out a spiritual thesis," writes Slant's Ed Gonzalez, "but they function most successfully — and, ultimately, with great uselessness — as a Stanley Kubrick-loving druggie's epic screensaver set to a middling DJ set."

For Robert Abele, writing in the Los Angeles Times, "what sustains its restless brilliance is the feeling that Noé's well-established fearlessness is finally in the service of his formidable artistry rather than a childish urge to superficially disturb."

More from Adam Batty, Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Dave Calhoun (Time Out London), Ed Champion, David Fear (Time Out New York), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Nick Hasted (Arts Desk, "intellectually banal"), Nelson Kim (Hammer to Nail), Karina Longworth (Voice), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Nicolas Rapold (L, "overlong and disappointingly conditional"), Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph), Nick Schager (B+), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B+), Lena Valencia (Bomb) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 8/10). Earlier: Cannes 2009 roundup.

Interviews with Noé: Sam Adams (AV Club), Christopher Bell (Playlist), Steve Erickson (Wall Street Journal), Sean Glass (Ioncinema), Aaron Hillis (GreenCine Daily, audio), Chris Lee (LAT), Dennis Lim (NYT), Steve Rose (Guardian), Nick Schager (IFC), Nigel M Smith (indieWIRE) and Hunter Stephenson (Interview). Kristina Benns talks with Nathaniel Brown for Interview.





"Never let it be said that Oliver Stone doesn't take advantage of a newsy opportunity," begins Dana Stevens in Slate. "His last two films, World Trade Center and W., re-imagined recent events from American political history — the first as sentimental humanist drama, the second (more effectively, for this viewer) as satire. For Stone to have left the financial crisis of 2008 cinematically unplumbed would be like Gordon Gekko neglecting to exploit an insider tip on a failing company. So, with the uncynical opportunism and merry lack of subtlety that's his wont, Stone has brought Gekko, the greed-extolling villain of his 1987 smash hit Wall Street, back to life."

"The most telling difference this time is that Michael Douglas's Gordon Gekko is no longer a villain as slimy as his namesake but a grand old alter ego — the devil at twilight." The Boston Globe's Ty Burr: "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is supposedly the story of one Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), an ambitious young trader who sets out to avenge his mentor (Frank Langella) and ends up playing the big boys for his soul. Whatever; Douglas steals every scene he's in."

"In a perverse but amusing way, Money Never Sleeps sometimes seems like film noir for CNBC junkies," suggests Matt Zoller Seitz in the New Republic. "It's filled with characters that express a wish to be straight, or go straight, or do some good in the world, and many of them actually mean it. But they keep getting seduced from the straight and narrow. The femme fatale is money."

Mike D'Angelo in the Las Vegas Weekly: "Stone has never been known for his subtlety, but Money Never Sleeps plays so broadly at times, what with its dopey visual metaphors (cut from a portentous speech on financial bubbles to little kids blowing actual bubbles on a playground) and its goofy overacting (Josh Brolin, as a subsidiary villain, does what can only be called a double-take gasp), that it might as well be a cartoon. Half of the movie amounts to stern finger-wagging about leveraged debt, and the other half finds poor Gekko so neutered that he's reduced to dispensing fatherly advice. For all the jabbering about moral hazards and renewable energy sources, it feels as much like empty calories as do many recent superhero pictures."

More from Richard Corliss (Time), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), David Edelstein (New York), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Robert Horton (Herald), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Mike Russell (Oregonian), Nick Schager (Slant), AO Scott (NYT), Betsy Sharkey (LAT), Lindy West (Stranger), Armond White (New York Press) and Michael Wilmington (Movie City News). Earlier: Cannes roundup.

A PopMatters Director Spotlight: "Reconsidering the Oliver Stone Filmography." Aaron Hillis talks with Stone for the Voice. Interviews with Douglas: Rebecca Ascher-Walsh (LAT) and John Hiscock (Telegraph).





"Let's get this out of the way right off the bat," begins Marke B in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "The true 'howl' in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's breezy bio-pic Howl is that of the ghost of Beat poet and queer countercultural icon Allen Ginsberg, patting his Buddha belly in the clouds and roaring at his good fortune to be portrayed by James Franco. Eat Pray Love's Elizabeth Gilbert may have scored the chick lit holy grail with Julia Roberts, but on the gay-o-meter, being reincarnated in the delectable body of Franco is pretty much to die for."

"When he played James Dean in a career-making cable movie, James Franco found a way to be uncannily like that grotesque/sexy 1950s actor while also remaining true to something distinctive within himself," writes Dan Callahan in the L Magazine. "As Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in Howl, a lifeless hodgepodge by documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, Franco is unconvincing as this lovable sage and tireless self-promoter... Burdened by very obvious animation illustrations by Eric Drooker and star-heavy, prosaic recreations of an obscenity trial, Howl would have been far better off as a straight documentary about Ginsberg and his best-known poem."

On the other hand, AO Scott in the NYT: "Not quite a biopic, not really a documentary and only loosely an adaptation, Howl does something that sounds simple until you consider how rarely it occurs in films of any kind. It takes a familiar, celebrated piece of writing and makes it come alive."

More from Matt Connolly (Reverse Shot), J Hoberman (Voice), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Keith Phipps (AV Club, B), Dana Stevens (Slate), Scott Tobias (NPR), Keith Uhlich (TONY), Steve Watson (Artforum) and Armond White (NYP). Michelle Devereaux talks with Franco for the SFBG. Slate's Fred Kaplan: "[I]t's probably hard for anyone born long after those years to grasp just what a cataclysmic impact that poem made (or perhaps any poem could make) not just on the literary world but on the broader society and culture."





"One man, one coffin, 90 minutes. That's the premise of the purposefully constrained suspense film Buried, an exercise in cinematic minimalism that doubles as a metaphor for how grunts get manipulated and sacrificed in times of war." At the AV Club, Noel Murray gives it a B.

In the Voice, Karina Longworth notes that Ryan Reynolds, "an actor best appreciated for his all-Canadian good looks and light comedic charisma, is tasked with carrying Buried without the help of either — director Rodrigo Cortés keeps the action bound to the box, limiting his lighting to naturalistic approximations, so that much of Reynolds's performance consists of him grunting and heaving in the dark."

On the whole, Buried is "a Twilight Zone episode for Mother Jones subscribers," argues Stephanie Zacherek in Movieline. "Your enjoyment — if that's the right word — of Buried will hinge on two things: Your ability to tolerate situations in which characters are confined to very tight spaces, and your willingness to be emotionally manipulated in the cheapest way imaginable."

At Slant, though, Simon Abrams argues that it's just "a smart little B movie." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Stephen Holden (NYT), Mary Pols (Time), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY) and Henry Stewart (L). FirstShowing's Alex Billington talks with Cortés. Geoff Boucher interviews Reynolds for the LAT. Ray Pride talks with both for Newcity Film.

 

BRIEFLY


"If only You Again understood that its story was suited for screwball comedy," writes Roger Ebert. "It labors under the delusion that this assembly of half-baked ideas is destined for a higher comic calling — for example, in the warm-hearted romantic weeper category. The movie is so laboriously contrived in every atom of its being that the only interest is in seeing if the characters can avoid the destinies decreed for them by ancient formulas." More from Stephen Holden (NYT) and Glenn Whipp (LAT).

"Zack Snyder, director of 300, Watchmen and the coming Sucker Punch, aims for younger males with the animated Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, and a mighty strange bird the movie is," writes Andy Webster in the NYT. "Based on the books by Kathryn Lasky, the film might be called (after Harry Potter's postal pet) Hedwig of the Rings." More from Todd Gilchrist (Cinematical), Todd McCarthy, Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Tom Russo (Boston Globe), Nick Schager (Voice), Betsy Sharkey (LAT) and Keith Uhlich (TONY).

"A dream odyssey of gay self-definition that's as laborious as it is hollow, Strapped follows a nameless hustler (Ben Bonenfant) through random eroticized encounters with a variety of johns in a mysterious apartment building," writes Nick Schager in the Voice. More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT).

"Livelier than the typical low-budget immigrant saga of grappling with one's hybrid cultural identity, Asian-Amerindie musical Fruit Fly still underwhelms with a mixed bag of melodies (a tune about public transit?), flat vocals, awkward choreography, and a strained script full of stereotypes." Aaron Hillis in the Voice. More from Andy Webster (NYT).

"There's no denying that the acting in Like Dandelion Dust, an adoption drama directed by Jon Gunn from a novel by Karen Kingsbury, is superb," writes Neil Genzlinger in the NYT. "Cole Hauser and Kate Levering play a well-off couple whose comfortable lives are jolted when the biological parents of their adopted son try to get the boy back. Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper play the birth couple, down-and-outers with domestic violence in their past. The four stars, especially the men, are compelling and convincing.... But practically every minute of this story seems like something you've seen or read before, and repeatedly."

Neil Genzlinger (NYT): "Three short films that probably need 'don't try this at home' warnings constitute a nutty, nicely conceived bill at the ReRun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn. Liquor and Drugs is the program's subtitle, and liquor and drugs are used and abused rather a lot in the films, which don't exactly issue ringing endorsements of moderation."

 

DOCUMENTARIES


In a feature for New York a couple of weeks ago, John Heilemann notes that Waiting for "Superman" "arrives after a triumphal debut at Sundance and months of buzz-building screenings around the country, all designed to foster the impression that [Davis] Guggenheim has uncorked a kind of sequel: the Inconvenient Truth of education, an eye-opening, debate-defining, socially catalytic cultural artifact. 'Superman' affectingly, movingly traces the stories of five children — all but one of them poor and black or Hispanic — and their parents as they seek to secure a decent education by gaining admission via lottery to high-performing charter schools. At the same time, the film is a withering indictment of the adults — in particular, those at the teachers unions — who have let the public-school system rot, and a paean to reformers such as [Geoffrey] Canada and Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington, DC, public schools, who has waged an epic campaign to overhaul the notoriously dysfunctional system over which she presides. Among leaders of the burgeoning education-reform movement, the degree of anticipation surrounding 'Superman' is difficult to overstate."

 

 

It's "a moving but vastly oversimplified brief on American educational inequality," argues Dana Goldstein in the Nation, where she notes that the buildup has included Guggenheim's appearance on Oprah, a Thomas Friedman column in the NYT, an education issue of Time and special segments on network television. "Meanwhile, mega-philanthropist Bill Gates, who appears in Waiting for 'Superman,' hit the road in early September to promote the film." But: "The film doesn't acknowledge that Bill Gates, who began his philanthropic career deeply skeptical of teachers unions, has lately embraced them as essential players in the fight for school improvement."

At any rate, Guggenheim has "found Republicans and Democrats, academics and the Obama administration saying remarkably similar things about how relentless effort along with high academic standards and expectations can finally crack the code for students held back by poverty and other social forces," writes Howard Blume in the LAT. In the NYT, Trip Gabriel notes that "public attention is focused in a way not seen in years, largely because of a few no-prisoners superintendents in cities like New York and Washington, and because of the Obama administration's Race to the Top initiative, which has turned charter schools and teacher accountability into front-page news." Meanwhile, in the New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann argues that the crisis has been overblown; in the Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove hears out Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers.

In the Voice, Melissa Anderson finds the doc "thoroughly laudable in intention if maddening in its logic and omissions." She notes that "macroeconomic responses to Guggenheim's query — such as ensuring that all parents earn a living wage so that the appalling number of kids living below the poverty line in this country is reduced — go unaddressed in Waiting for 'Superman,' which points out the vast disparity in resources for inner-city versus suburban schools only to ignore them."

"Waiting for 'Superman' lacks the depth of detail to register as a way forward for public education reform," writes Matt Connolly in Slant. "But in those moments when Guggenheim sets his gaze upon the children whose lives rest so much on fate (of skin color, of economic status, of whether their number is called in a lottery), its galvanizing power is undeniable."

More from David Edelstein (New York), David Fear (TONY), Stephen Holden (NYT), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Nathan Rabin (AV Club) and Ryan Vlastelica (L).

 

BRIEFLY


"To be unable to connect with your own child is an exquisite form of torture for parents, while their children are stranded in an isolation often written off to mental retardation." Ella Taylor for NPR: "But though there are weeping mothers aplenty in A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism, this bracing documentary — it chronicles the journey of an Icelandic woman, Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir, through Europe and the United States in search of enlightenment and help for her young son's autism — is rarely mawkish or self-indulgent. Directed by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, who has made a career out of exploring the lives of the socially marginalized, the film traces an arc from despair to provisional hope, without allowing the glib long face of tragedy to morph into faux uplift. As inspiration goes, A Mother's Courage flickers, much like Iceland's weather, from thick fog to intermittent light." More from Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant), Andrew Schenker (Voice), James van Maanen and Andy Webster (NYT).

 



"Ngawang Choephel, a Tibetan musicologist who was imprisoned by the Chinese for more than six years, would have had a compelling film had he simply stuck to his own remarkable story," writes Neil Genzlinger in the NYT. "But his documentary, Tibet in Song, is doubly powerful because he also weaves in the overall history of Tibet's struggle, a primer on the Chinese government's campaign to muzzle Tibetan culture and vignettes from other Tibetans who resisted." More from Diego Costa (Slant) and Aaron Hillis (Voice).

With The Big Uneasy, Harry Shearer "has written and directed a cogent 98-minute investigative chronicle that, along with Spike Lee's pair of HBO films, is an indispensable part of any history of New Orleans before, during and after Katrina," argues Daniel M Gold in the NYT.

Aaron Hillis in the Voice on The Good Soldier: "Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys's potent and wisely straightforward doc depicts a quintet of US soldiers who, as their frank testimonies reveal, found their humanity among the peaceniks. All decorated veterans who fought bravely in American wars (World War II, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq), each man recounts his light-bulb moment and the moral grappling that led up to it."

 

REPERTORY


"Most of the power, fervency and soapy compulsion survives in [a] new restoration of Fred Zinnemann's 1953 Oscar-winner From Here to Eternity," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "[W]hat a punch this movie still packs."

 



Michael Joshua Rowin for Artforum: "A paragon of 'they don't make 'em like that anymore' classicism, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) was David Lean's first epic, the quasi genre with which the British director would become synonymous even after a significant decade and a half helming prestige-play (Brief Encounter [1945], Summertime [1955]) and novel (Great Expectations [1946], Oliver Twist [1948]) adaptations. To watch Bridge now is to realize how much tastes have changed and how far standards have fallen in the past fifty-plus years: While the serious adult epic has gradually been replaced by the adolescent action-adventure fantasy — Lawrence of Arabia (1962) giving way to The Lord of the Rings — any remaining films that can be appropriately deemed 'sagas' beyond the Star Wars sense of the word have rapidly declined in quality, this starting roughly around the time of Mel Gibson's meatheaded Braveheart (1995)."

"The film shuffles elegantly among three perspectives: that of Japanese commandant Saito ([Sessue] Hayakawa), the merciless overseer of a POW camp; British Col. Nicholson ([Alec] Guinness), Saito's prisoner and stalwart rival; and US Navy man Shears ([William] Holden), a cynical con artist who miraculously escapes from Saito's camp, only to be conscripted to return and destroy the bridge the inmates are building." TONY's Keith Uhlich: "There is no clear distinction between heroism and villainy; Lean uses the massive CinemaScope canvas to keep us at an emotional remove from the characters so they seem like checkerboard pieces moving toward a fixed, destructive point."

"Film Forum is doing the world a great service, as always, by projecting a new digital restoration of Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) in its original aspect ratio," notes Chris Gisonny at the House Next Door.

 

IN OTHER NEWS


"Eddie Fisher, one of the most popular singers of the 1950s who made headlines with marriages to — and divorces from — some of the most famous Hollywood starlets of that era, has died. He was 82." Robert J Lopez in the LAT: "Between 1950 and 1956, Fisher recorded dozens of songs that made the top 40 and four that reached No 1 on the pop charts.... But he may be best remembered for his failed marriages to Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor and Connie Stevens."

"And further to that, 'I came from the streets of Philadelphia to the White House — Harry Truman loved me, Ike loved me, Jack Kennedy and I shared drugs and women,' he later said of himself," notes Michael Freedland in the Guardian. "It was a reputation that he did not need."

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