Just as All Saints Day follows Halloween, so, too, does Claude Chabrol's quiet and gentle final film follow a raucous batch of scary stuff; then, the documentaries and a couple of highlights from the UK scene. That, more or less, is the layout of this week's roundup of theatrical releases.
"Monsters is a road movie, a love story, an allegory about immigration and power relations between the United States and Mexico, a lo-fi indie drama and, yes, an apocalyptic monster movie, all at the same time," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Given the limitations... no, forget it, screw the limitations. However you slice it, Monsters is a dynamite little film, loaded with atmosphere, intelligence, beauty and courage. It echoes lots of other movies, but it isn't quite like anything else you've seen this year, or last year, or the one before that. I mean that roughly 98 percent in a good way."
"Writer-director Gareth Edwards's lo-fi sci-fi construct Monsters is an attempt to counter noisy, hyper effects-laden alien invasion flicks with something teasing, indie and good for you," writes Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times. "Instead, it's like a pendulum swing too far in the other direction. Set in the wake of a returning US space probe crash in Central America that unleashed extra-terrestrial life forms into most of Mexico, Monsters posits an illegal immigration metaphor in which a militarily inclined US quarantines its southern neighbor to keep out the 'aliens.' That's just background, though, for the movie's real story, a travelogue of sorts in which two stranded Americans — a scruffy photojournalist (Scoot McNairy) and his boss's cute blond daughter (Whitney Able) — make their way back to the US border through a government-declared 'infected zone,' flirting, pouting, making small talk, cocking an ear at odd jungle noises and falling in love."
"Borrowing the handheld lensing and easy pace of a low-budget character piece, director Gareth Edwards, a CGI artist by trade, has created a dystopian landscape that's so naturalistic, it's uncanny," finds Karina Longworth in the Voice. "As a writer, he's a less successful realist, resorting to some pretty hoary contrivances to get and keep his boy and girl in the same space for the film's duration, and the largely improvised post-mumble performances don't add much depth."
More from Jeannette Catsoulis (New York Times), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Noel Murray (who gives Monsters a B- at the AV Club), Michelle Orange (giving it a Movieline score of 7 out of 10), Nick Schager (1.5 out of 4 stars in Slant), Keith Uhlich (3 out of 5 stars in Time Out New York), Ben Umstead (Twitch) and James van Maanen. Interviews with Edwards: Kurt Halfyard (Twitch), Stephen Saito (IFC) and Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle).
Viewing (2'15"). For the Telegraph, Edwards and Professor Lewis Dartnell, an expert in astrobiology based at University College London, talk about the science that inspired the film. More viewing (2'55"). Edwards discusses a scene at indieWIRE. And yet more viewing (3'00"). "Edwards, 35, won't say what was spent making the movie, but it's almost certainly far less than $500,000," reports John Horn for the LAT. "Best Buy was so impressed with his bang for the buck that the electronics chain commissioned a video about how Edwards made it."
"Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's Amer is an homage to 70s giallo, a riff on erotic slasher-horror movies made by the likes of Mario 'Twitch of the Death Nerve' Bava and Sergio 'Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key' Martino — not to mention, of course, those made by the genre's maestro, Dario Argento." Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek: "But instead of fashioning Amer into a nostalgic exercise, Cattet and Forzani have taken some of the key identifying elements of giallo — artfully salacious nudity, razors slicing into bare flesh like butter, the greatest-hits image of a single, unblinking eye peeping through a keyhole — and distilled them into a dream scrapbook of alluring cut-and-paste images. Unsettling, energizing and more than a little mystifying, Amer is the kind of movie that may leave you feeling indifferent or puzzled at the end. But damned if it doesn't return, days later, to visit — kind of like a killer in black leather gloves."
"Consistently outrageous and relentlessly surreal, the Belgian film is, intentionally or not, frequently funny; it's also compelling and distinctive." Kevin Thomas in the LAT: "The setting is a vast Mediterranean-style mansion overlooking the sea. A little girl, Ana (Cassandra Forêt), is surrounded by a steady flow of macabre incidents — keyhole-peeking, doors being locked and unlocked, dark, fleeting figures glimpsed. Then there is the room her parents say she must not enter but, of course, does, unleashing dark rituals and a touch of the supernatural. Or is it just a child's exceedingly vivid and dark imagination?"
5 out of 5 stars from TONY's Joshua Rothkopf: "There used to be a climate for dares like this; let's re-create it." More from Stephen Holden (NYT) and Ella Taylor (Voice). Interviews with Cattet and Forzani: Stephen Garrett (TONY, where Joshua Rothkopf presents a giallo slide show) and Jason Widgington (Ioncinema).
"After 50 years, is there anything new to see or hear in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho?" asks Bill Weber in Slant. "A landmark in film history as well as a monument of cinephilia, it has evolved from the cause célèbre that shocked its initial audiences with a murder that upended expectations laid out by its narrative's first 45 minutes to a creation whose details — its quick production utilizing Hitchcock's TV show crew, the storyboarding of the shower scene by 'visual consultant' Saul Bass, composer Bernard Herrmann settling on strings — only 'black-and-white' orchestrations so his brilliantly effective score could match the gothic monochrome of the visuals — have been recounted to the point of mythologizing the movie's birth. Both credited and blamed for the ensuing five decades of slasher and torture-porn thrillers whose clinical mayhem make Psycho's look quaint, the saga of solitary motel manager Norman Bates, perfectly embodied by the boyish and sympathetic Anthony Perkins, and his domineering, hidden-from-sight mother, would have long ago lost its capacity to be reconsidered and re-watched if its fascination depended solely on its carefully doled-out jolts of terror (three or four, by most counts). Beneath Hitchcock's conjuring of fear and dread via calculated exploitation of the spectator's assumptions, the themes and vision of this seeming funhouse exercise in what the director termed 'pure cinema' are bleak, tragic, and in keeping with the great critic Robin Wood's appreciation of Psycho as 'one of the key works of our age.'"
And it's returning to New York's Film Forum for a week, occasion enough for the L's Mark Asch to take measure of Psycho as an adaptation; also, Henry Stewart briefly revisits the sequels.
Psycho's also playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, where, in September, Josef Braun watched a couple watching Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho Back and Forth and To and Fro, a scene that opens a reverie on the film he loves ("It scares me and moves more now than when I first saw it, back when I was a little younger than the couple on the street"), Gordon's original installation and Psycho II.
5 out of 5 stars, naturally, from TONY's Keith Uhlich and, at Twitch, Canfield talks with Robert Galluzzo about his documentary, The Psycho Legacy.
"I realize that few will concur in my opinion that recent films such as Zombieland, Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, and George A Romero's Diary of the Dead were not bloody enough," concedes Tim Cavanaugh in Slate. "But none of these movies featured what Romero calls 'the banquet,' the scene wherein flesh-eating zombies, having won control of the battlefield, eat with relish the inner organs of the living. True zombiephiles won't be satisfied with a few fingers or a severed lower leg. We want ribcages ripped apart, strings of intestines devoured by hungry freaks, characters we have gotten to know over the course of the movie being quartered into steaming pieces by the hunched, hungry hordes. So it's encouraging that while theatrical movies are on a starvation diet, television has become a welcoming host for the zombie banquet. Two new series, both premiering this week, return dismemberment and disemboweling to their proper place at the center of undead studies."
And they are: IFC's Dead Set, "a self-referential horror comedy set within the UK version of the reality show Big Brother," and, on AMC, writer-director-executive producer Frank Darabont's The Walking Dead, adapted from Robert Kirman's series of graphic novels. The NYT's Alessandra Stanley finds The Walking Dead to be "surprisingly scary and remarkably good, a show that visually echoes the stylized comic-book aesthetic of the original and combines elegant suspense with gratifyingly crude and gruesome slasher-film gore."
Gilbert Cruz talks with Darbont for Time, where James Poniewozik writes that the show "paints a thoroughly convincing postapocalyptic world, both visually and emotionally.... The more intriguing aspect of the series is the survivors and whether they can maintain a society worth surviving in. Which makes zombies an ideal metaphor, as Godzilla was in the nuclear age, for our nightmares du jour: pandemics; decentralized terrorism; the collapse of social, financial and ecological systems. Zombies are viruses, really — leaderless networks, organized on no other principle than destruction, multiplying exponentially until they burn themselves out, taking us with them. If The Walking Dead can build on its promise and run with these ideas, along with unflinching gross-out thrills, it can tell a doomsday story with all the things zombies crave: brains, guts and heart."
Another Darabont interview: Lane Brown for New York's Vulture.
"The first Saw film was a grisly lark with two men locked in a room, a corpse on the floor between them, and a disembodied voice on tape giving them a series of bad-or-worse choices that might, just might, get them out of the room alive," begins James Rocchi at MSN Movies. "Saw premiered, in all places, at the Sundance Film Festival. It was a plucky little indie, and at the time I laughingly dismissed it with these words: 'as if the Max Fischer Players from Rushmore had done a production of Seven.' Six years and six films and millions of dollars later, the Saw series comes to an end with Saw 3D, which literally lunges off the screen with shabby, vulgar vitality to close out the series."
"The plotting and characterisation are thin, the set-piece torture scenes are elaborately dull, and the 3D images add nothing but another level of fuzziness," writes Nigel Floyd in Time Out London. "Indeed, a nasty whiff of desperation hangs over the whole enterprise, which started out as a clever puzzle-piece thriller but quickly descended into boring, sadistic horror for its own sake."
More from Simon Abrams (Slant, no stars), Mike Hale (NYT), Eric Hynes (Movieline, 2 out of 10), Michael Ordoña (LAT), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, D), Nick Schager (Voice) and a roundup of more reviews at the Atlantic Wire. The AV Club's Scott Tobias interviews Saw creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan.
"It is inarguable that the best part of the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy is the actress Noomi Rapace," writes Paul Constant in the Stranger. "Her Lisbeth Salander is a once-in-a-lifetime creation: a tough, damaged, goth computer hacker who can't manage to choke down her own sense of justice long enough to disengage with society. Unfortunately, the plot dictates that Salander spend the first half of [The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest] in a hospital bed, recovering from a brutal beating administered in the end of the second film in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire. (Uh, spoiler alert? For casual readers, let me spell it out for you: If you haven't watched the first two movies in this trilogy, you're not going to understand what's going on in this installment. If you have watched the other two, you'll watch this one no matter what I say about it.)"
Manohla Dargis in the NYT: "Although bulkier and older than Larsson's pin-weight creation, Ms Rapace over the course of the three movies has made this tricky, irresistible character her own, a particularly noteworthy achievement given that Lisbeth (who might be autistic) leans to degrees of expressive inexpressiveness. With her hard gaze and underlying menace, Ms Rapace — with Salander as her guide — holds your attention in these mostly unmemorable movies. Particularly crucial is her punishingly physical performance, which underscores that this is very much a story about what some men do to women's bodies."
A parenthetical note from Melissa Anderson in the Voice: "If The Social Network's Rooney Mara, who will play Lisbeth in David Fincher's Dragon Tattoo remake, can't scowl as effectively, she at least comes with brand recognition: The Girl Who Inadvertently Inspired Facebook." As for the film at hand, though: "Having never read a page of Larsson's books, I can make no claims to Hornet's Nest's fealty to its original source. But, like the first two Millennium movies, this final installment feels thoughtlessly put together, its script unpruned and rushed through, all to capitalize on the staggering worldwide popularity of its dead author."
More from Simon Abrams (L), Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), Josh Bell (Las Vegas Weekly), Ed Champion, Richard Corliss (Time), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3 out of 4 stars), David Edelstein (New York), Brett Michel (Boston Phoenix), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michael O'Sullivan (Washington Post), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, C+), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 2 out of 5 stars), Nick Schager (Slant, 0.5 out of 4 stars), James van Maanen and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 4 out of 10). Patrick Z McGavin talks with Rapace for Vulture.
"The death of Claude Chabrol inevitably saddles Inspector Bellamy, the prolific French New Waver's final feature, with a coda-status heft that the wispy opus cannot possibly shoulder," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "Paul Bellamy (Gérard Depardieu) is the last of the filmmaker's ambiguous protagonists, a renowned police inspector whose analytical mind can't resist drifting toward riddles even during a holiday in Nimes.... Merci Pour le Chocolat and The Bridesmaid would have made for more robust swan songs, though Inspector Bellamy does provide the auteur with an affecting final self-portrait in Depardieu's wry, slightly melancholy sleuth, a man grown plump with age and comfort yet to the end continuing to search and inquire."
It "may only occupy a high middling position in the prolific director's 80-film oeuvre, but it's loaded with the virtues that characterized his remarkable career," argues J Hoberman in the Voice. "A serious entertainment that opens with the sound of someone whistling in the graveyard, it's an ostensive crime film at once symmetrical, surprising, and knowingly cinephilic."
"The ease and professionalism that distinguished this prolific director's later work is very much in evidence," agrees the NYT's AO Scott, "as is an insouciant attitude, at once resigned and dismissive, toward mortality. The first thing you see is a graveyard, and the first sound you hear is whistling."
In March 2009, Daniel Kasman wrote here in The Daily Notebook that Bellamy "initially seems to be a policier curdled into a character piece to give due room and respect to this great actor. But the lesson, both of the film itself, and, inside that, of Detective Bellamy's story, is there is more than meets the eye to this world of ours, its desires, and its stories. In fact, despite being dedicated to Georges Simenon, Bellamy's aura has less in common with the procedural detection of crime novels than it does with the cinema of Jacques Rivette and the desire to detect."
More from Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Benjamin Strong (L), Ella Taylor (NPR), Keith Uhlich (TONY), James van Maanen and Armond White (New York Press).
TONY's David Fear on Welcome to the Rileys: "Doug ([James] Gandolfini) is cut off from everything but his weekly poker game and a dalliance with a local waffle-house waitress. His wife, Lois ([Melissa] Leo), is a mousy agoraphobe likely to jump out of her skin should folks speak above a whisper. There's also the elephant-in-the-room matter of their late daughter, whose absence haunts every interaction. Really, what could save this battered union, except perhaps a distressed teen stripper ([Kristen] Stewart) whom Doug kindly takes under his wing at a business convention in New Orleans?... Both Gandolfini and Stewart shrug off the baggage of being tied to other iconic roles, though neither adds much to their parts; only Leo, always a dependable supporting actor, turns her character into something resembling a three-dimensional person. Watching her tentatively reconnect with her maternal instincts is a welcome surprise. Everything else here just feels like another descent into mediocre Amerindie miserablism." More from Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Manohla Dargis (NYT), David Edelstein (New York), Eric Kohn (iW), Dan Kois (Voice), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, C-), Andrew Schenker (Slant, 1 out of 4 stars) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7.5 out of 10). Melena Ryzik talks with Gandolfini for the NYT.
"When Bill Nighy shot the hit-man comedy Wild Target with Emily Blunt and Rupert Grint a few years ago," writes Kyle Buchanan, introducing his interview for Vulture, "he thought that co-starring with Grint was the closest he'd ever get to the Harry Potter series, though he was happily proven wrong when he was later tapped to play Rufus Scrimgeour in the two-part Potter conclusion, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Even though Dan Kois's review of Wild Target for the Voice is merely one longish paragraph, it'd be just plain wrong to simply quote the whole thing. But that's the one to go with. For a second opinion, you might turn to Eric Hynes (TONY, 2 out of 5 stars), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 6 out of 10), Stephen Saito (IFC), AO Scott (NYT) or Bill Weber (Slant, 1.5 out of 4 stars). Susan King talks with Grint for the LAT.
Nick Schager for the Voice: "In Dan Ireland's trivial adaptation [of EL Doctorow's story 'Jolene: A Life'], teen orphan Jolene (Jessica Chastain) embarks on a cross-country quest for love and happiness, during which she assumes a variety of clichéd roles: rural ingénue, loony-bin lesbian, roadside prostitute, wild child, stripper, gangster's moll, career woman, and abused high-society wife.... Chastain delivers a full-bodied debut performance, but she's ultimately stuck taking her wandering-soul protagonist far more seriously than it — or the film — deserves." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Glenn Heath Jr (Slant, 1 out of 4 stars), Andrew Schenker (TONY, 1 out of 5) and Armond White (NYP).
"Walkaway, a small romantic melodrama about four Indian American couples in New York, is only 97 minutes but feels much longer," writes Michael Ordoña in the NYT. "It suffers from a marked lack of energy, a condition not cured by its many, many pop-music-scored montages." More from Diego Costa (Slant, 1.5 out of 4), Rachel Saltz (NYT) and Andrew Schenker (Voice).
"A fascinating look at the complex intersections of art and charity, reality and perception, Waste Land follows celebrated New York artist Vik Muniz back to his native Brazil, where he'll work with outer Rio garbage-pickers on an ambitious art project," writes Eric Hynes in the Voice. "Fast becoming one of today's most adventurous and empathetic documentarians, director Lucy Walker (Countdown to Zero, Blindsight) wisely keeps the film several paces removed from Muniz, whether to capture footage that falls beyond the artist's scope or to subtly critique both the art- and filmmaking processes."
"Recalling another sweet, emotionally see-sawing art-activism doc, Born Into Brothels, the ethics of Muniz and Walker's inter-related projects are potentially very problematic," writes Benjamin Sutton in the L. "Tiaõ, the president of the pickers' union, accompanies Muniz to the prestigious auction house Phillips de Pury & Company's London location to sell his portrait — created by photographing a sculptural arrangement of recyclable materials modeled after a photo Muniz took of him at the dump. The auction, an unconventional one for a mid-price range contemporary artist, goes very well, as do subsequent sales, generating a quarter-million dollars for the pickers. That sum dwarfs ethical questions raised during a brief argument between Muniz, his assistant and his wife over the artist's responsibility to his disempowered collaborators."
More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Eric Kohn (iW), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant, 3 out of 4), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 8 out of 10), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 3 out of 5), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B+) and James van Maanen.
"One comes away from The Kids Grow Up impressed by Doug Block's skill as a documentarian but less enthused about his parenting," suggests Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Halfway through the film, his daughter Lucy, whose 17th year is his main subject, breaks down in tears in front of his camera. To her, the filmmaking project has grown oppressive and infuriating. She expresses her anger politely but firmly, saying, 'I hate it!' Block seems to understand, but he keeps rolling the camera. To his credit, he later decides to stop filming her and only returns to it when she gives him permission to do so. The stated subject of The Kids Grow Up is the loss many parents feel when their children leave the family home, but beneath the surface, it presents a vision of parenthood as a bitter power struggle."
"Block intended this movie as a loving portrait of his relationship with his daughter," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Instead, it's a reflection, and not always a kind one, of the man behind the camera."
"Block's last film, 51 Birch Street, documented his uneasy fascination with his parents' marriage, and his attempts to explore it after his mother's death," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. "The Kids Grow Up is similar cinematic therapy with the camera as a relentless shield between Block and unpleasant emotions.... By experiencing Block's films, we aren't merely witnessing his neurosis, we're abetting and validating it."
Yikes. Ok, more from Aaron Hillis (TONY, 3 out of 5), Eric Hynes (Voice), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant, 2 out of 4), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), AO Scott (NYT) and James van Maanen. Interviews with Block: Steve Reddicliffe (NYT), Anthony Kaufman (Voice) and Daniel Loria (indieWIRE).
"A Small Act would have been a pretty good documentary even if things had merely gone the way the filmmakers probably envisioned at the start of the project," writes Neil Genzlinger in the NYT. "But when unforeseen developments rewrote the script, as it were, the film took on a depth that made it all the more remarkable. Jennifer Arnold, the director, sets out to tell the story of Chris Mburu, who as a child in a poor village in Kenya was probably destined for a life of hardship until a woman in Sweden named Hilde Back, participating in a sponsorship program, provided the modest amount of money needed to keep him in school. Mr Mburu ended up with a degree from Harvard and a job with the United Nations investigating human-rights abuses."
"The 'hook' for American audiences is that these problems are remarkably similar to the challenges facing the US education system and detailed in recent films like Waiting for Superman," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "A Small Act is ultimately less about the triumphs of educational aid than the abyss faced by those children left very much behind." More from Simon Abrams (Voice) and Eric Hynes (TONY, 2 out of 5).
IN THE UK
"John Landis will always be loved for writing and directing An American Werewolf in London (1981), the definitive horror-comedy," writes Nick Hasted at the Arts Desk. "That — and The Blues Brothers, and Trading Places — was reason enough for Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis to agree to star as 19th-century grave-robbers Burke and Hare in Landis's first feature for 12 years. Pegg's Spaced co-star Jessica Hynes (playing Hare's slatternly wife), Sir Christopher Lee, Stephen Merchant and Ronnie Corbett are also among those queuing to work with the legendarily affable and energetic director. Burke and Hare won't, sadly, recruit future generations." More in the same vein from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 2 out of 5), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London, 3 out of 5), Anthony Quinn (Independent, 2 out of 5) and Tim Robey (Telegraph, 1 out of 4).
"Ruben Östlund's Involuntary, a chillingly precise examination of social behaviour and its boundaries, is unquestionably one of the films of the year," writes Neil Young. "But which year? Perhaps 2008, when it world-premiered at the Cannes Film Festival's edgy Un Certain Regard section and won awards at festivals in Brussels, Geneva, Mar del Plata and Stockholm, before being released in its native Sweden. Or maybe 2009, when ticket-buyers in Norway, Hungary, the Netherlands, France (where it was shown under the decidedly ironic title Happy Sweden), Belgium and Denmark were able to sample the delights of this ambitiously episodic feature-length debut from acclaimed shorts-director Östlund, co-written with Erik Hemmendorff." Östlund's "style and subject-matter also place him somewhere between two of his much more widely-heralded countrymen, Roy Andersson (Songs from the Second Floor; You, the Living) and Lukas Moodysson (specifically his first features Show Me Love and Together). Like the former, he combines very precise visual compositions — with Östlund, working with first-time cinematographer Marius Dybwad Brandrud, events off-camera are often just as important as what we can actually see — and a deadpan, 'Nordic' humour that's as dry and cold as sub-Arctic tundra."
More from Nigel Andrews (Financial Times, 4 out of 5), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 2 out of 5) and Anthony Quinn (Independent, 3 out of 5).
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