Winter wears on, and again, most of the more interesting openings of the week are local, beginning, almost inevitably, New York.
Michael Atkinson in the Voice: "As we well know, they don't make Susan Sontags anymore - hot, newsmaking ur-intellectuals whose essays were events to equal their subjects, who also wrote knockout fiction, and who was occasionally moved to make inquisitive, brainy, New Wavey films. Of her four features, only Promised Lands (1974) is a straight-on documentary: Fueled by her ambivalent reaction to the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Sontag landed in Sinai and Jerusalem before the fighting was through, armed with a tiny crew and the bullheaded naiveté required to venture blindly out into a minefield, just to get a shot." More from Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant), Noel Murray (AV Club) and Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York). At Anthology Film Archives through February 10.
"Eyes Wide Open, the quiet and confident feature debut of the Israeli director Haim Tabakman, explores the conflict between sexual desire and religious obligation," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Set in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem, the film, written by Merav Doster, gives nearly equal weight to both sides in that struggle. It does not sensationalize lust or treat piety with condescension, but rather treats these two basic, often antithetical human impulses with respect and compassion." More from Michael Koresky (indieWIRE) and Vadim Rizov (Voice). Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
"Now a 305-minute triptych film, Red Riding originated in the novels of Ossett-bred David Peace, written in Tokyo and published 1999-2002," begins Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "Looking back without nostalgia to the Yorkshire of his youth, the books summoned what Brit critic Simon Reynolds once called the 'sheer crapness of England in the late 70s,' when "the UK [looked] like an Eastern Bloc country.'"
"Reminiscent of The Wire and Bong Joon-Ho's Memories of Murder in its serpentine inquiry of corrupt institutional structures, and also of Zodiac in its crime-procedural data overload, The Red Riding Trilogy... proves that HBO has no monopoly on quality small-screen drama," writes Nick Schager in Slant.
The trilogy begins its roadshow tour in New York at the IFC Center. "Despite this unusual sendoff, the trilogy affords a fairly familiar immersion in contemporary British cinematic miserablism, where men and terror run wild, and beauty exists only in the cinematography and some of the performances," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "All else is horror."
More from the latest round of reviews: Mark Asch (L), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY) and James van Maanen. Earlier: Graham Fuller in Film Comment and reviews from Telluride and the NYFF. Interviews with the makers: David Fear (TONY), indieWIRE and Nicolas Rapold (NYT).
"[W]hat even the most anglophile American audience will make of stories so steeped in the murkiest stuff of late 20th-century British history remains to be seen," writes Danny Leigh. "There again, it's never been a fruitful pastime predicting which British movies might find favour in the States." Also in the Guardian: David Peace and James Ellroy chat each other up.
"Henrik Ruben Genz's diabolical comedy Terribly Happy assures us that yes, something is definitely rotten in the state of Denmark, or least in the rural Danish county of South Jutland." Stephen Holden in the New York Times: "From the moment the camera surveys the dirty brick buildings in Skarrild, a desolate backwater in the county's soggy flatlands, you sense that this is a village of the damned. But Terribly Happy, adapted from a novel by Erling Jepsen, is not a horror movie but a witty, expertly constructed psychological thriller." More from Nicolas Rapold (Voice), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Andrew Schenker (Slant) and James van Maanen. At the Angelika Film Center.
Falling Awake screens at the IFC Center through Tuesday. Aaron Hillis in the Voice: "A commonplace Bronx tale about a Latino pretty boy who has a shot of escaping the gang violence in his dead-end neighborhood through perseverance, sensitivity and song, one-named Cuban-born director Agustin's unrewarding middlebrow drama flaunts its street cred dubiously - from the clean-cut cast's forced hip-hop slang to the unsophisticated rivalries established between its Puerto Rican and African-American characters." More from Mike Hale (NYT) and Andrew Schenker (L).
"The extreme violence of this week's releases suggests that larky or tragic, message-y or escapist, things go better with blood," writes David Edelstein in New York. "From Paris With Love and District 13: Ultimatum prove the Frenchies have somersaulted over the Chinese in delivering acrobatic action pictures. Their formula is martial arts plus homegrown parkour (or l'art du déplacement), which Wikipedia defines as overcoming 'any obstacle within one's path by adapting one's movements to the environment' - the environment being, in this case, fire escapes, rooftops, or any setting swarming with men and automatic weapons. Pierre Morel, a former cinematographer and current ace director in the Luc Besson stable, made the first District 13, the rousing Taken, and now the big-budget From Paris With Love, a mismatched-buddy thriller starring John Travolta with a big bald dome and wispy goatee as a gonzo but disciplined American agent, and Jonathan Rhys Myers as his by-the-book pointy-headed sidekick. Unlike most bloated modern action flicks, this is a hair over 90 minutes and goes by even more quickly. In scene after masterly scene, hordes of bad guys turn into blood-spurting pinwheels that hit the ground the instant you manage to breathe out. Exhalations become gasps of amazement."
More on Paris from Ed Gonzalez (Slant), Stephen Holden (NYT), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Scott Tobias (AV Club) and Keith Uhlich (TONY). And more on Ultimatum from Brian Miller (Voice), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), Henry Stewart (L), Scott Tobias (AV Club) and Keith Uhlich (TONY).
"As midwinter sudsers go, you could do a lot worse than Dear John, an unassuming and mildly endearing adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks's novel of the same name," writes Matthew Connolly in Slant. "Director Lasse Hallström and screenwriter Jamie Linden sprinkle this Southern romance with spicy references of the medical and topical variety: Autism, cancer, the 9/11 attacks, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq all make cameos. Ultimately, though, they seem to know that this is comfort food through and through, and act accordingly. If they don't refrain from the syrup, they at least have the good sense to use it in moderation." More from AO Scott (NYT), Dana Stevens (Slate) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).
"Yet another reason to stay inside the lodge, Frozen turns the irksome circumstance of a stalled ski lift into a seminightmarish test of survival," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "Like the 2004 actors-as-bait shark shocker Open Water (another Sundance sensation), this new movie grafts low-budget cred onto a high-concept premise that wouldn't raise an eyebrow in Hollywood." More from Todd Brown (Twitch), Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Tim Grierson (Screen), Kevin Kelly (Cinematical), Aaron Hillis (Voice), Noel Murray (AV Club), Eric D Snider (Cinematical), S James Snyder (Techland) and Drew McWeeney (Hitfix). Quint talks with director Adam Green for AICN.