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"Incendies," "Beautiful Darling," "Stake Land," More

"Denis Villeneuve's Incendies — an operatic saga of intergenerational woe — is the cinematic equivalent of a Harlem Globetrotters game, with brazen contrivances and a preordained outcome repurposed as dazzling spectacle." David Ehrlich at Reverse Shot: "A strained melodrama that unspools like the bastard child of Homer and Alejandro González Iñárritu, Incendies devotes the brunt of its 130 minutes to earning the audacity of its resolution — it's a work of such unchecked ambition that it almost has to be excused before it can be appreciated at all. But if Villeneuve's film ultimately resolves itself as little more than a gaudy parlor trick, it's an expertly executed bit of chicanery whose punchline hits you square in the gut."

"It's a dual story," explains New York's David Edelstein, "of French-Canadian brother-and-sister twins compelled by the will of their dead mother to locate a father they thought died decades earlier and a brother they never knew existed; and, in flashbacks, their mother's early life, careering from bloody horror to bloody horror amid right-wing Christian militias massacring Muslims and Muslims massacring Christians right back. (The country goes unnamed but is obviously Lebanon.) Then, ten minutes from the end, there's a preposterous turn, and Incendies stands revealed as a heavily symbolic piece of mythmaking, a threnody for a culture in which families are perverted by what one character calls 'the merciless logic of reprisals.' The movie doesn't quite jell, but you'll feel its sting for hours."

More from Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Mark Holcomb (Voice), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 1/5), Michael Lerman (Hammer to Nail/Filmmaker), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, B-), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 5/5), Nick Schager, Andrew Schenker (Slant, 2.5/4), AO Scott (New York Times) and Martin Tsai (Critic's Notebook). Time Out New York's David Fear interviews Villeneuve.

"If Jackie Curtis was the most brilliant and mercurial of the drag queens immortalized in Andy Warhol's films of the late 1960s and early 70s, Candy Darling was the most moving and devotional," writes Amy Taubin for Artforum. "Born James L Slattery in 1944 to a working class family and raised in the stultifying conformity of post–World War II, Long Island suburbia, Candy discovered her ideal self in the platinum-haired vision of Kim Novak toughing it out in The Eddie Duchin Story (1956). Just as the young Warhol wrote fan letters to Shirley Temple and incorporated her gestures into his blatantly feminized presentation of self, the young Slattery wrote to Novak (who responded with a 'personalized' letter that became one of the boy's most cherished possessions) and fashioned a fantasy life around his desire to become a glamorous Hollywood sex symbol like Kim. (Warhol missed a great opportunity by not remaking Hitchcock's Vertigo with Candy in Novak's role, thereby clarifying Hitchcock's fetishism of women who are not at all what they pretend to be.)"

For Taubin, James Rasin's documentary, Beautiful Darling, is "tender and intimate," but for Melissa Anderson, writing in the Voice, it's "polite but poorly structured." TONY's Keith Uhlich finds it "both adoring and severe. One of the producers is the performer's good friend Jeremiah Newton, whose 2007 journey to inter Candy's ashes forms the backbone of the film. You might expect some of the subject's edges to be blunted as a result, but this fortunately isn't the case. There is, of course, a tear-inducing montage of Candy set to Lou Reed's 'Walk on the Wild Side' (in which she was immortalized). Yet there are also grim appraisals of the actor's pathological need for stardom and the social circle that mercilessly fostered it (Fran Lebowitz, unsurprisingly, gets in a few trenchant digs at Warhol and his vogue-chasing posse). The film isn't blinded by Candy's beauty and celebrity; it digs critically, if still empathetically, beneath."

More from Ed Gonzalez (Slant, 2/4) and Stephen Holden (NYT). At Flavorwire, Judy Berman tracks down other Warhol Superstars. Beautiful Darling is at New York's IFC Center.

"Post-apocalypse slow-burner Stake Land, produced by Larry Fessenden, is Jim Mickle and Nick Damici's follow-up to the killer-rats-infest-the-LES flick Mulberry Street," writes Karina Longworth in the Voice. "It's an ambitious hybrid, grafting the ethereal, landscape-driven, light-infused beauty and naïf narration associated with Terrence Malick onto a tale in which struggle against supernatural forces is just one challenge of coming of age — a trope that has become inescapably trendy of late, but hasn't had such a sense of balance between the fantastic and the organic since the heyday of Joss Whedon."

Andrew O'Hehir lists the reasons Stake Land is Salon's "Pick of the Week": "gory and tense, but not drenched in self-awareness or 'quotations'; a focus on characters and setting rather than splatter; a noirish, boyish, comic-book spirit; the loving evocation — but not quite imitation — of low-budget 1970s and 80s end-of-the-world movies, from Escape From New York to A Boy and His Dog to the Mad Max series…. Now, it's perfectly true that the story of Stake Land is strikingly similar to that of The Road, the post-apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy novel that reached the screen last year by way of Aussie filmmaker John Hillcoat (except with that film's portentous, minimalist allegory replaced with an actual story). But you might just as well say that it resembles The Searchers or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Of Mice and Men, in that it's an archetypal American yarn about two guys on the road through an unforgiving landscape…. Decent scares and genuinely gruesome special effects, a gritty and ominous drive-in aesthetic (provided by cinematographer Ryan Samul and production designer Daniel Kersting) and a deceptively casual portrait of an almost-believable America in terminal decline -- what more do you want?"

Not everyone agrees, as you'll see in the "more from" list: Christopher Campbell (Spout), Alex Beattie (Critic's Notebook), Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Grady Hendrix (Twitch), Richard Larson (Slant, 2/4), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 1/5), Henry Stewart (L), Scott Tobias (NPR) and Gabe Toro (Playlist). For the Wall Street Journal, Steve Dollar asks Mickle, Fessenden and Damici why it's taken 15 years to make this thing. More interviews with Mickle: Michael Guillén, Brandon Harris (Filmmaker) and Matt Singer (IFC). Also at IFC Center.

"Water for Elephants, Francis Lawrence's glamour-soaked adaptation of Sara Gruen's Depression-era circus novel, stars Robert Pattinson's Stubbled Jawline, Robert Pattinson's Furrowed Brows, Robert Pattinson's Supple Lips, and Robert Pattinson's Tousled Hair. In supporting roles are a talented elephant and a blonde woman who is — let me check my press notes — yes, Reese Witherspoon." We'll get back to Logan Hill's review for Vulture in a moment.

First, though, Tom Shone: "Pattinson plays a vetinary student named Jacob Jankowski — can't you already catch that whiff of vodka and borscht? — who in the first five minutes of the film loses both his parents in a car crash, hitches a ride on a passing freight train and falls in with a traveling circus, whose sadistic ringmaster (Christoph Waltz) is married to a Harlowish bareback rider named Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) of the kind that men are always falling in love with in circus movies, and with whom Jacob is soon dancing cheek to cheek while Waltz snores, drunkenly in the corner. Given the sculptedness of both their cheekbones, this represents a considerable feat of engineering. Whether it amounts to good chemistry is another matter."

Back to Logan Hill: "Three years before Water for Elephants takes place, Charlie Chaplin released The Circus, another romance about a man who woos a horse-riding showgirl while attempting to rescue her from an abusive ringmaster. That film's unforgettable final shot — Chaplin sashaying into the horizon with an indefatigable little skip in his step — was poignant because the cockeyed Tramp had just watched his love fall for a bland, tightrope-walking jock named Rex, whose main virtues were his jawline, tailored tux, and vanity. Eighty-odd years later, Hollywood seems to have learned exactly the wrong lesson: Ditch the Tramp, keep Rex."

More from Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3/4), Glenn Heath Jr (Slant, 2/4), Stephen Holden (NYT), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 2/5), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 2/4), Michael O'Sullivan (Washington Post, 2.5/4), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, C), Dana Stevens (Slate), Ella Taylor (NPR) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 8.5/10). Back at Vulture, Kyle Buchanan and Claude Brodesser-Akner ask industry insiders, "If Reese Witherspoon were a stock, should you buy, sell, or hold?"



Eric Hynes in Time Out New York on POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold: "In an act of either willful naïveté or smothered self-awareness, middlebrow docu-jester Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) typecasts himself as an eager corporate shill in this shiny, happy investigation into onscreen product placement. The film sets out to show how and why artistic compromise happens, with Spurlock working the phones (and his Hollywood contacts) to fund the very film we're watching, one plug at a time. But rather than an argument or exposé, the movie is a condescendingly narrated demonstration of how money makes the movie world go round. (Stop the presses.)" More from Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper, C+), Marjorie Baumgarten (Austin Chronicle, 3/5), Jesse Cataldo (Slant, 2/4), Ed Champion, Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2.5/4), David Edelstein (New York), Ethan Gilsdorf (Boston Globe, 2/4), Peter Gutierrez (Twitch), Marc Holcomb (Voice), Stephen Holden (NYT), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, B), Matt Zoller Seitz (Salon), Drew Taylor (Playlist), James van Maanen and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 5.5/10). Interviews with Spurlock: Jacob Bernstein (Daily Beast), Alex Billington (FirstShowing), Tasha Robinson (AV Club) and Matt Singer (IFC).


"For those who wished Ang Lee's 2007 historical romance Lust, Caution was instead Lust, Caution, Ass-Kicking, here's some good news," announces Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Director Andrew Lau and action star Donnie Yen set their mixed-martial-arts epic Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen in the same region a decade earlier, so it's like a prequel, but with way more broken bones…. [T]here aren't enough A's in 'bad-ass' to describe the fight scenes…. It's just too bad that Legend of the Fist breaks up that action with long scenes of well-dressed men and women sitting around in nightclubs, talking politics." More from Mike Hale (NYT), Rob Humanick (Slant, 2.5/4), Mark Jenkins (NPR), Nick Pinkerton (Voice) and Nick Schager (TONY, 2/5).

"It's a special disappointment when a movie takes a great subject and lets us down," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Movieline. "It's even more heartbreaking when a movie's release coincides with a horrific real-life event. Steven Silver's The Bang Bang Club, based on the true story of four photographers who met and formed a gang of sorts while covering the conflicts in South Africa during the last days of Apartheid, is making its way into American theaters the same week two photojournalists, Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington (the latter of whom codirected the fine war documentary Restrepo), were killed covering the conflict in Libya. Unfortunately, Silver's movie doesn't cut deep enough: It glosses over some thorny questions and hammers too fixedly on others. It's not the movie's job to hand us answers to unanswerable questions. But it ought to do more than float those questions in the form of vague, shaky moral multiple-choice options." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2/4), David Fear (TONY, 2/5), Michelle Orange (Voice), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Nick Schager (Slant, 1.5/4), Matt Singer (IFC) and Scott Tobias (AV Club, C).

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can’t wait for Incendies, and the polarized reviews just indicate that its worth watching.

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