Before surveying what the critics are saying about movies opening in theaters this weekend, let me note that Wednesday's entry, covering Fassbinder's World on a Wire, Ghobadi's No One Knows About the Persian Cats, Connie Field's Have You Heard from Johannesburg, Bette Gordon and Handsome Harry, Alain Tanner, Akira Kurosawa and Swedish Cinema in New York, Manny Farber and Noël Coward in Los Angeles and Crossroads in San Francisco, has been updated. Now then.
"Exit Through the Gift Shop is the first and perhaps the last movie to be made by the mysterious English street artist Banksy," writes Stephanie Zacharek on her first weekend as Movieline's chief film critic. "The picture strives to capture the spirit and style of street art, and to make a bold statement about its commodification: Banksy's work, in particular, is prized by collectors and fetches high prices in the art market. But if Banksy is getting rich, he doesn't seem to be too happy about it. And so he has framed his film as a rags-to-raggedy riches story in which an enthusiastic street-art fan — a nutball Frenchman transplanted to Los Angeles named Thierry Guetta — first becomes a Banksy disciple and then surpasses his teacher, launching a mega-million-dollar art career of his own.... Is Guetta real, or is he just one of Banksy's more elaborate creations, a walking, talking piece of street art himself? Exit made a modest ripple of bemusement when it played at Sundance and Berlin earlier this year. When I'd ask people who'd seen it what they thought, they'd respond cryptically, 'It's fun.' Then they'd mutter something like, 'I'm not saying I buy it...'"
For Aaron Hillis, writing in the Voice, Exit is "not just the definitive portrait of street-art counterculture, but also a hilarious exposé on the gullibility of the masses who embrace manufactured creative personas."
More from Jeannette Catsoulis (New York Times, where Melena Ryzik asks gallerists and artists for their takes), David Edelstein (New York), Andrew Hultkrans (Artforum), Anthony Kaufman, Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Noel Murray (AV Club), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nicolas Rapold (L), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York) and Nick Schager (Slant). Earlier: Reviews from the UK. Logan Hill talks with Guetta for New York. Interviews with Banksy: David Fear (TONY) and Shelley Leopold (LA Weekly). Listening. IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore "talk about the film (with spoilers — please consider yourselves warned!) and about other docs that call out conflicting motives between filmmaker and film subject."
"Kick-Ass is about how superheroes are basically a dumb, dangerous idea with elements of creepy serial-killer behavior, but it's also about how wearing costumes, blowing shit up, and kicking the asses of anonymous mob guys like in video games is totally fucking awesome." Paul Constant in the Stranger: "Those two ideas simply aren't compatible. Kick-Ass is full of enough ineptly handled superhero-movie tropes to turn off an audience drawn by the real-life-superhero concept, and packed with enough clever winks to frustrate the shut-your-brain-off-and-watch-shit-go-boom crowd."
"Kick-Ass could not be more calculating, or cynical," finds the NYT's Manohla Dargis. For the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert it's "morally reprehensible." At Ain't It Cool News, Harry Knowles explains "Why my friend, Roger Ebert is dead wrong about Kick-Ass."
"To criticize movie violence is the surest way to be branded a scold, a moralist, a worrywart who refuses to understand that movies are not real," writes the NYT's AO Scott. "As someone who often revels in the visceral thrills of cinematic action and the bloodthirsty satisfactions of dramatic vengeance, I’m not inclined to fit that stereotype. But I also think that the uncritical defense of brutality on film, especially of the unimaginative, half-jokey sadism that drives this latest superhero movie, can be evasive and irresponsible. It also disturbs me that, unlike naughty language or sexuality, violence is rarely seen as scandalous these days."
Matthew Vaughn's movie is based on the comic by Mark Millar, "who penned the similarly indefensible Wanted," notes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "[T]hough I haven't read the source material, looking at Kick-Ass and Wanted's lessons of better living through macho aggression, one might assume Millar's one of those guys who was profoundly affected by Fight Club without ever quite understanding that it's a satire." Still: "I laughed. God help me, I laughed."
More from Simon Abrams (New York Press), Richard Corliss (Time), Dan Curley (Quietus), Tim Grierson, Robert Horton (Herald), Jonathan Joe (Chicago Reader), Craig Kennedy, Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Drew Lazor (Philadelphia City Paper), Karina Longworth (Voice), Scott Marks, Michelle Orange (Movieline), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Vadim Rizov (Salon), James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Nick Schager (Slant), Dana Stevens (Slate) and Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times). Richard Whittaker has background in the Austin Chronicle. Interviews with Vaughn: Alex Billington (FirstShowing) and Geoff Boucher (LAT). Dave Itzkoff profiles Chloë Grace Moretz for the NYT; Josef Braun interviews her. Lane Brown talks with Christopher Mintz-Plasse for New York.
For the New York Times, John Anderson meets James Ivory to talk about, among other things, making films five years after the death of Ismail Merchant. The City of Your Final Destination now opens "after years of financial uncertainty kept the movie from being completed. Set among the baroque survivors of a suicidal novelist and the naïve academic who wants to write his biography, it stars Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Omar Metwally. The screenplay (based on Peter Cameron's novel) is by [Ruth Prawer] Jhabvala, who has written 21 scripts directed by either Mr Merchant or Mr Ivory, and hasn't written for anyone else since 1988. The film's costume designer (Carol Ramsey), editor (John David Allen) and production designer (Andrew Sanders) are all longtime Merchant Ivory collaborators. And Mr Hopkins has starred in Mr Ivory's Howards End, Surviving Picasso and The Remains of the Day. But even if City of Your Final Destination is officially a Merchant Ivory Production, Mr Merchant's absence was keenly felt."
"James Ivory and cast make every scene flutter with feeling," finds Nick Pinkerton in the Voice, but for TONY's David Fear, "the emotional pull of his classic screen translations is completely MIA." Bilge Ebiri for IFC.com: "Really, the only problem is that there isn't a story here. Peter Cameron's novel, on which the film is based, eased us into its languid narrative, but the film treats his plot machinations a bit too directly, as if they were the stuff of high drama and not an elaborate literary conceit."
More from Tim Grierson, Stephen Holden (NYT), Michael Koresky (Reverse Shot) and Andrew Schenker (Slant).
"A high-concept premise too-tidily comments on its underlying subject matter in The Joneses, which focuses on a foursome whose job is to pose as a family in wealthy suburbia in order to sell, to their neighbors, their picture-perfect luxury lifestyle and the accoutrements it requires," begins Nick Schager in Slant. Here's how he ends: "[I]t proves to be the type of film that, if you've read the plot synopsis, you've in effect already seen."
"[T]he movie sends out porcupine quills of social criticism, finding the soft underbelly of the debt-driven, compulsive materialism that is a pervasive aspect of American life," writes AO Scott in the NYT. "Suavely updating the iconography of suburban emptiness and avoiding overstatement, [director Derrick] Borte conjures up a pleasant Stepford that runs less on robotic conformity than on endless, anxious competition. The key to the film is that it allows this life to have some real appeal.... But the stiletto it should be concealing seems to have gotten lost on the way to the third act, when the sharp humor turns into a dull, blunt drama that lets everyone off the hook."
With Demi Moore and David Duchovny. More from Marjorie Baumgarten (Austin Chronicle), Richard Corliss (Time), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Aaron Hillis (TONY), Benjamin Mercer (Reverse Shot), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Michael Phillips (Tribune), James van Maanen and Robert Wilonsky (Voice). "What Happened to Demi?" asks Gina Piccalo (Daily Beast); Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum: "Does her art imitate her life?" Jennifer Steinhauer profiles her for the NYT.
"The past continually forces its way into the present in The Secret in Their Eyes, an attractive, messy drama riddled with violence and edged with comedy that comes with a hint of Grand Guignol, a suggestion of politics and three resonant, deeply appealing performances." The NYT's Manohla Dargis on the film that beat out A Prophet and The White Ribbon for the Foreign Language Film Oscar last month. "Set primarily in contemporary Argentina with intermittent flashbacks to the 1970s when the country was descending into a military dictatorship, the film is by turns a whodunit (and why), a romance and something of a ghost story."
It's "about the hidden fears, passions, and capital-e Evils one can glean from looking into another's peepers, be they open and inviting or wide shut," writes Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot. "Unfortunately in Juan José Campanella's film, these windows to the soul reveal little more than superficialities and reflect only hoary movie conventions."
More from Aaron Cutler (Slant), David Denby (New Yorker), Bilge Ebiri (IFC), Nicolas Rapold (Voice), Dana Stevens (Slate), Benjamin Strong (L), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Keith Uhlich (TONY), James van Maanen, Jessica West and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline).
"Mel Brooks once claimed that his comedies 'rose below vulgarity,'" recalls Matt Zoller Seitz in Salon. "The rude farce Death at a Funeral treats Brooks' description as a mission statement." The original "was set in England but directed by an American ringer, Frank Oz (Bowfinger, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)." Neil LaBute's remake "replaces the original's white English actors with a predominantly African-American cast and relocates the story to Los Angeles and pencils in new names, Yankee profanity and references to Michael Jackson, R Kelly and Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Other than that, it's the same movie: a comedy that invents nothing and is content to be a well-oiled machine, setting up and knocking down gag after well-worn gag.... As totally unnecessary remakes go, it's one of the best."
The AV Club's Nathan Rabin gives it a D+, Slant's Andrew Schenker, one star out of three. More from Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Tim Grierson, Stephen Holden (NYT), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Mary Pols (Time), Nick Schager (TONY), Armond White (New York Press) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Ari Karpel has a backgrounder in the NYT. Damon Smith interviews LaBute for Filmmaker and Aaron Hillis talks with Tracy Morgan for IFC. Viewing. James Rocchi talks with Morgan, Chris Rock and Luke Wilson for MSN.
Pornography: A Thriller is "the Citizen Kane of gay porn ghost stories," declares Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "Told in three distinct and uroboric acts, it revolves around the years-ago disappearance of a male-porn star (Jared Grey) and its present-day effect on a Brooklyn writer (Matthew Montgomery) and an LA adult film icon-turned-adult-film director (Pete Scherer)." And the film "uses [David Lynch's] aesthetic to explore its own gender-neutralized, post-Mulvey, orientation-refocused concerns about The Gaze with characters resentful of their characterdom and (male) viewees ever-conscious of their viewers (us!)." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Diego Costa (Slant), Michael Koresky (Reverse Shot), Michelle Orange (Voice) and James van Maanen.
"The Perfect Game, about a ragtag Mexican team that improbably wins the Little League World Series, is so overwhelmed by its own based-on-actual-events tale that it can't find the tone to tell it effectively," writes Neil Genzlinger in the NYT. More from Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Eric Hynes (TONY) and Nick Schager (Slant).
"From the crude graphics he uses to accentuate his arguments to the John Carpenter-esque synths he plays over particularly sinister revelations of wrongdoing, director Bob Bowdon makes it easy to dislike The Cartel, a damning documentary exposé about how America's — specifically New Jersey's — public education system serves its employees first, its students second." But Slant's Ed Gonzalez finds it "becomes gripping when it stops dishing facts and Bowdon begins to unload on the Garden State's education system" and "really comes alive" when "giving a human face to those affected by the state's thuggish education system." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT) and Michelle Orange (Voice).
"How rare is it to discover a documentary about disability that scorns 'differently abled' euphemisms and rhapsodies of inner beauty?" asks Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. "Rare enough to make NoBody's Perfect an exemplar of fresh-air filmmaking that addresses the devastating legacy of the drug thalidomide with acidic wit and grumpy honesty." More from Christian Blauvelt (Slant) and Andrew Schenker (Voice).
IN THE UK
"Cemetery Junction looks like a risky roll of the dice for Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, vaunted heroes of TV, radio, but not yet the silver screen," writes Tim Robey in the Telegraph. "Their first film collaboration is this Seventies set, semi-autobiographical comedy-drama about three young men slouching towards adulthood in the fag end of Reading. Virtual unknowns take the lead roles."
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw finds "something puzzling and regressive about Cemetery Junction. Gervais and Merchant made a great television classic in The Office which, with miraculous subtlety and realism, tackled the realities of work as it is really experienced by real people right now. The 'work' in this film is rather sketchily presented: vaguely lathing or sanding (or something) in a factory, or doing BR station announcements or flogging life insurance. This is work as it is imagined in When the Whistle Blows, the cheesy fictional sitcom in Gervais's TV series Extras — but enlarged to glossy, emotionally supercharged feature length."
For Neil Young, it's a shame Cemetery Junction "should be generally so content to stick to tried-and-tested conventions of recent British nostalgic comedy-drama."
More from Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Wendy Ide (Times) and Ben Walters (Time Out London). Craig McLean talks with Merchant for the Telegraph. Tim Arthur interviews Gervais and Merchant for TOL. Viewing (11'03"). The Observer's Jason Solomons talks with Gervais and Merchant, too.
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