"Daring the discomfited viewer to laugh at shame and suffering, and then wonder why we're laughing, Todd Solondz is back," announces J Hoberman in the Voice. "Life During Wartime, which won Best Screenplay at Venice and had its local premiere at the New York Film Festival, shows the misanthropic moralizer as confounding and trigger-happy as ever, his big clown thumb poised over a garish assortment of hot buttons — race, suicide, autism, sexual misery, self-hatred, Israel, and, his old favorite, pedophilia."
"Todd Solondz is many things, but up until seeing this film I did not necessarily believe that 'master of suspense' was one of those things," writes Glenn Kenny. "And yet, as Life During Wartime began — with a reprise of sorts of the opening scene of Happiness, the 1998 film that the new picture is a kind of sequel to/variation on — I felt a sense of cringing dread that honestly did not let up for the entire film, which runs a very tight 98 minutes."
The "queasy, drily comical, and morally hefty Life During Wartime might be the most important movie of the year — at least the most engaging." Henry Stewart in the L Magazine: "It speaks not just for a generation but for an entire country.... It's not the terrorists who pose our greatest threat. It's us, Solondz suggests — everybody in this unforgiving, war-crazy country."
More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), David Edelstein (New York), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Tom Hall (Hammer to Nail), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Patrick Z McGavin, Michelle Orange (Movieline), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), AO Scott (New York Times), Martin Tsai (Critic's Notebook), James van Maanen and Armond White (New York Press). Interviews with Solondz: Aaron Hillis (GreenCine Daily), Anthony Kaufman (indieWIRE), Karina Longworth (Voice), Ryan O'Connell (Interview), the Playlist, David Poland (video), Nick Schager (IFC), Matt Zoller Seitz (Salon), Carl Swanson (New York) and Jonah Wiener (NYT). And Joshua Rothkopf talks with Ally Sheedy for Time Out New York.
"Cold War spy games are seen through the prism of family stress in Farewell, based on the real-life case of a Soviet mole who leaked top-secret documentation of a large industrial-espionage network to the West in 1981." Bill Weber for Slant: "It's too bad that the up-close-and-personal angle is frequently banal and takes screen time away from the intricate, deadly game of cat and mouse, which is the victim of some patchy exposition in Eric Raynaud's screenplay. A disillusioned KGB colonel (Emir Kusturica), code-named 'Farewell' by French intelligence, disapproves of the nervous, occasionally bumbling Moscow-based engineer (Guillaume Canet) who serves as his contact, but grudgingly soldiers on in passing his revelatory files to the amateur, while rejecting invitations to defect: 'My country needs me. I can change the world.'"
"Director Christian Carion (Merry Christmas) establishes a low-key yet threatening atmosphere right from the start," writes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York. "Nothing is overemphasized for effect or a spell-breaking laugh; even a few appearances by Ronald Reagan ([Fred] Ward), who hilariously unwinds by watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, feel strangely on point rather than caricatured. Carion isn't reaching for the skies with Farewell (you never get the sense that this is a capital-G great movie), but he accomplishes an amazing amount within his intensely focused frame."
More from David Denby (New Yorker), Stephen Holden (NYT), Noel Murray (AV Club), Nick Pinkerton (Voice) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). John Anderson has a backgrounder in the NYT.
"Salt, famously the Spy Flick Rewritten for Angelina Jolie After Tom Cruise Dropped Out, has been publicized as the cinematic equivalent of the 19th Amendment: finally, a level playing field for female action stars!" Karina Longworth in the Voice: "This is mostly bullshit, of course — Jolie's Evelyn Salt is not the first action hero to be given a gender reassignment between initial conception and opening weekend (cough, Alien), nor is this the first stunt-heavy film Jolie has carried on her back and sold on her name. What is startling about Salt is the extent to which, in insisting on the moral ambiguity of its protagonist for most of its running time, it gives us an action-hero prototype that Cruise couldn't play and Jolie was born to."
Gary Susman in the Boston Phoenix: "Phillip Noyce, best known for the 90s spy thrillers Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, outfits Salt with fancy new toys and hardware (including Jolie's wiry, athletic new frame), but his film is really a pre-Bourne, old-school Cold War mole-hunt thriller that pits the CIA against a group of KGB agents bent on a campaign of political assassination and nuclear armageddon. No one seems to have told the Russian spies — or Noyce — that the Cold War is long over."
"Despite an overlay of geopolitics, the movie is as loud and empty as James Newton Howard's score, which I don't mean entirely in a bad way," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The music does what it needs to do to amplify and inflect the action, while also paying subtle sonic homage to the brassy Bond-style soundtracks of the past. And the film itself moves with speed and efficiency. Ms Jolie's contribution is to endow the silliness with a gravity and clarity of purpose that makes you care, for a scant hour and a half, who Salt is, what she does and where she stands. Not that she stands for much, or stays still for very long."
More from Richard Corliss (Time), David Denby (New Yorker), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), David Edelstein (New York), Jim Emerson, Ed Gonzalez (Slant), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Scott Marks, Todd McCarthy, Wesley Morris (Boston Globe), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Dana Stevens (Slate), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Keith Uhlich (TONY), Lindy West (Stranger), Armond White (NYP) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). "The Hollywood Reporter's Jay Fernandez has a pretty intriguing, not to mention really (and I mean really) long take on the gestalt of Angelina Jolie as Hollywood's only real female action star," notes Patrick Goldstein in the LAT. Stephen Saito talks with Noyce for IFC and Jenni Miller interviews Jolie for Cinematical.
Update, 7/26: In the NYT, Janet Maslin reviews Andrew Morton's Angelina: The Unauthorized Biography: "Hollywood lineage, drop-dead gorgeous, Goth phase, tattoos, blood in vials, Billy Bob, heroin, S&M, bisexuality, big wet kiss for brother, magical makeover, six kids, genius for image control. And home wrecker. That too. Since Ms Jolie is also something of a mystery, she would have presented ordinary biographers with a formidable challenge. But Mr Morton is not easily deterred. And he has a helpful mantra for digging into the lives of others: Sources are for amateurs. No footnotes or chapter notes sully the simplicity of his research."
Update, 7/28: Charles Taylor for IFC.com: "Deconstructing Angelina Jolie."
Now that MoMA's Sally Potter retrospective has drawn to a close, Orlando, digitally restored in high definition, is getting a proper re-release. In Slate, Dan Kois recalls that when it "came to the Sundance film festival in 1993, it didn't exactly fit the profile of a festival breakout.... To rewatch Orlando 17 years later... is to marvel at just how sui generis the movie was, and what a miracle it was that it captured the film-going public's imagination. (The movie took in more than $5 million at the box office and garnered two Oscar nominations.) Its influence is still being felt — not only because its mix of the ornate and the offhand has become so prevalent an aesthetic in the indie world, but because its behind-the-scenes artists, all of them veterans of Britain's 1980s experimental-film scene, have filtered into the mainstream."
"The story of a sex-shifting immortal, Orlando remains Sally Potter's best-known experiment, re-releasable now as a Tilda Swinton showcase and as a waltzing burst of well-appointed gender play of the sort that might not come into existence now." Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine: "Potter adapts Virginia Woolf's original 1928 novel, which, amazingly, came on the heels of Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse (and was followed by A Room of One's Own). Curtailing the full spectrum of ambiguities surrounding identity, Potter relies on Swinton's portrait-come-alive aristo-cred to see us through several eras of affairs and power scuffles with a wink and a swoon."
More from Karina Longworth (LA Weekly), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and James van Maanen. See also the July 7 roundup. Interviews with Swinton, with or without Potter: Melissa Anderson (Voice, accompanied by seven photographs of Swinton and Potter by Sylvia Plachy), Michael Lavine (Paste), Gerard Raymond (House Next Door), David Schwartz (Moving Image Source) and a video report from the BBC. Listening (21'19"). Ed Champion interviews Potter.
"Lucy Walker's documentary Countdown to Zero takes its cues from John F Kennedy's speech about how the threat of [nuclear] apocalypse could be exacerbated 'by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness,'" notes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Walker examines each possibility in turn, with some impressive talking heads to back her up: Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, Tony Blair, Valerie Plame, and more.... Walker has something important to say with Countdown to Zero, but if this movie were standing on a doorstep with a petition, most reasonable people would sign it quickly and send it on its way, rather than inviting it in to chat."
More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Mimi Luse (L), Vadim Rizov (Voice), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Michael Joshua Rowin (Reverse Shot), Andrew Schenker (Slant), James van Maanen and Alison Willmore (IFC). Interviews with Walker: Dennis Lim (NYT) and Damon Smith (Filmmaker). Matt Dentler reports on Tuesday night's New York premiere. Andrew O'Hehir talks with Valerie Plame for Salon. Meantime, David Byrne's posted a journal entry on Lucy Walker's Waste Land, "about artist Vik Muniz's Pictures of Garbage series, a project done with the help of the pickers at Jardim Gramacho, the largest dump/landfill in Latin America, located outside Rio de Janeiro."
"Much like last year's crowd-pleasing, muck-aimed Swiffer mop The Cove, Mugabe and the White African is cinema-as-journalism at its most aesthetically confident and humanely satisfying," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant. "A politically minded documentary that maintains the look and feel of an impromptu chamber case study, Mugabe follows a little over a year in the lives of Zimbabwe farmer Mike Campbell and his son-in-law Ben as they defend their land against government agents attempting to seize and redistribute property across the nation." More from Cynthia Fuchs (PopMatters), Mike Hale (NYT), Eric Hynes (TONY) and Ella Taylor (Voice).
"Scarcely heard from since he helmed two mid-1990s indie hits (Ruby in Paradise, Ulee's Gold), Victor Nuñez's new family drama plays like a musty holdover from that era," writes Eric Hynes in the Voice. "In Spoken Word, poetry slams still pose as the new punk rock, and the fact that men don't talk enough about their feelings remains a very fresh discovery." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Nick Schager (Slant) and S James Snyder (TONY).
"Ramona and Beezus has the undeniably nice, pleasantly uninspired feel of film designed to kill time with the kids on a rainy weekend," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "As such, there's nothing really wrong with it. But there's nothing amazingly right about it either, unless, of course, it sends young viewers marching off to libraries to find the real Klickitat Street for themselves." More from Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Mike Hale (NYT), Eric Hynes (TONY), Adam Keleman (Slant), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Nick Schager (Voice), Megan Seling (Stranger) and Glenn Whipp (LAT).
The New Yorker's Richard Brody reviews Audrey the Trainwreck, the first film to screen at the new reRun Gastropub Theatre in Brooklyn: "Young and no longer so young time-clock punchers in the suburbs of Chicago pass the time at work and pass it some more at bars and cafés, and the intrusion of chance is rarely felicitous — certainly not for Ron (Anthony Baker), the protagonist of Frank V Ross's scruffy, tender yet very funny romance.... With the sly and agile camera eye of David Lowery, the wistful piano of John Medeski, and his own delicate sense of pacing, Ross exalts the stifled frustrations and modest yearnings of everyday people." More from Mark Asch (L), Mike Hale (NYT), Karina Longworth (Voice) and Dan Sallitt.
Andrew Schenker in the Voice: "With its frenzied depiction of a desperate economic climate, its turbulent handheld camerawork that sticks close to the cluttered streets of Manila, and its insistence that the audio track is every bit as important as the visuals, 2007's Tirador articulates the aesthetic of Brillante Mendoza, the Filipino director whose breakthrough film of the following year, Serbis, imagined a dilapidated porn theater as a capitalist microcosm." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT). At the Indiehouse.
Local roundups. JR Jones (Chicago Reader), LA Weekly and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
IN THE UK
"Actually, there's no one quite like Andrew Kötting in cinema anywhere.... His work, whether in films such as Gallivant (1996) and This Filthy Earth (2001), his 2004 sound piece Visionary Landscapes (created alongside Jem Finer), or in his extraordinary book In The Wake of a Deadad (2006), is sinewy, bloody-minded and spry: a series of antic and visceral journeys through real places and head spaces, maniacal traipses in pursuit of fierce joy.... Ivul, his first feature since This Filthy Earth, was shot in France, is in French, and stars a mainly French cast. This is no handicap. It's actually a blessing: not only does it underscore what a fundamentally unparochial film this is, but it adds another dimension of beguiling, mysterious estrangement to a story that is already tantalizing and ensnaring."
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Dave Calhoun (Time Out London) and Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman).
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