The film of the week would have to be Olivier Assayas's Carlos, and the roundup of raves carries on right here. So, too, does the one for Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, which a few critics have now stepped forward to defend. With those two covered, then, we're going to be able to move through the rest of this week's theatrical releases at a pretty swift clip.
"You can't go wrong with the sight of Dame Helen Mirren firing a .50-caliber machine gun, but Robert Schwentke's Red comes awfully close," argues Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "A terrific concept that barely survives a botched execution, this overscaled adaptation of Warren Ellis's DC comic stars Bruce Willis as a retired CIA agent having a terrible time adjusting to his new, quiet life in the suburbs.... Red, we learn, is agency code for Retired: Extremely Dangerous. It seems there's a nasty bit of unfinished business from a job gone wrong back in the 80s; Frank's old team has been marked for elimination by the new regime, so he's got to hit the retirement homes and round up his old partners in skullduggery, staying one step ahead of these damn know-it-all kids who think they're badass secret agents." And this is one "killer cast, perhaps the most overqualified we've ever seen in a movie so primarily concerned with blowing a lot of shit up. Morgan Freeman is all sly smiles as Willis's former partner, ogling the nurses at his retirement home while grousing about the end-stage liver cancer that doesn't seem to slow him down much, and John Malkovich brings the crazy as a paranoid casualty of the CIA's LSD experiments.... Best in show are Helen Mirren and Brian Cox.... But Red never bothers to come up with a story worthy of these characters."
"A more thoughtful film might have investigated the chasm between the dreams older people have of reliving their youthful exploits and the exhausting reality of all that running, killing and flirting," suggests Time's Richard Corliss. "But since this is not a movie about defining true-life heroes but rather about watching movie stars, the audience is instead asked to be impressed by the blinding whiteness of [Richard] Dreyfuss's teeth and [Ernest] Borgnine's ability to look nearly as spry at 93 as he did in The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch, back when he was a colt in his 50s." All in all, Red is "a movie designed with no loftier intention than to fill the hours on a long plane ride, and it need not be put on anyone's bucket list."
More from Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle), Nick Schager (Slant), AO Scott (New York Times), Dana Stevens (Slate), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York) and Robert Wilonsky (Voice). Jonah Weiner profiles Mirren for the NYT and, introducing a slide show at Slate, Maud Lavin considers "her complex portrayals of the many faces of female aggression."
"But is it art?" One of the occasions for Dennis Lim's "Arts & Leisure" piece for the New York Times, besides the wide, wide release of Jackass 3D and "the improbable 10th anniversary of the MTV phenomenon," is a screening at MoMA, whose Josh Siegel, the curator responsible, tells him that the film is "merely the climax — or the lowest depths, if you prefer — of a tradition that dates back to 1895, when the Lumière brothers drenched a poor sap with a garden hose and filmed it." And the question, by the way, is directed to Johnny Knoxville, "the ringleader of Jackass and one of its three creators (along with Spike Jonze and Jeff Tremaine)." His answer: "I really don't intellectualize it."
The NYT's Manohla Dargis: "It just might be that America's favorite jackasses, having played around with sharks in their last big-screen effort (Jackass Number Two of course), have this time actually jumped one, and in 3D no less.... [T]here are only so many times you can slurp from the same fetid well, or at least make like Krakatoa and blow."
Glenn Kenny for MSN Movies: "Because the now-acclaimed director of hipster-beloved art films Spike Jonze was, and remains, a peripheral member of the Jackass cohort; because sometime movie-actor Knoxville has been spotted reading Flannery O'Conner; because the last Jackass movie dropped the name of surrealist provocateur Luis Buñuel; because of all this there has been some speculation recently as to whether the Jackass project constitute a pop conceptual art coup rather than just a bunch of not-quite-fratty guys with issues engaging in elaborate and pointless rituals of self-abuse. My own question is, well, what's the difference anyway?"
More from David Edelstein (New York), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), Nick Schager (Slant), Matt Singer (IFC), Dana Stevens (Slate) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Drew Toal talks with Knoxville for Time Out New York.
"For a while Conviction, based on the true story of a New England woman's long struggle to win freedom for her imprisoned brother, feels as if it just might escape the stifling conventions of the crusader-for-justice melodrama," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The film, directed by Tony Goldwyn from a script by Pamela Gray, starts in a chronological scramble: the lives of the characters have been shattered, and the filmmakers are sorting through the shards, offering us painful glimpses of adult anxiety and childhood pain." At one point, though, the film "goes into lockdown, as the talents of a number of superb actors [Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Clea DuVall, Juliette Lewis] are stifled by an airless, by-the-numbers story. The intriguing question of Kenny's character — not his guilt or innocence, but the quicksilver temperament that makes both seem plausible — fades as the story of [Betty Anne Waters's] hard work and sacrifice gains momentum."
More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Melissa Anderson (Voice), Jesse Hassenger (L), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe), Noel Murray (AV Club), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Nick Schager, Scott Tobias (NPR) and Keith Uhlich (TONY). Matt Singer talks with Rockwell for IFC. Profiles of Betty Anne Waters: Robin Pogrebin (NYT) and Farah Stockman (Boston Globe).
"After nabbing the Camera d'Or award at Cannes in 2009, Warwick Thornton's modest little story about two indigenous teens had been hailed as ground zero for a glorious new wave in Australian cinema." Time Out New York's David Fear on Samson and Delilah: "For once, the hyperbole seems justified: Charting the relationship of a gas-sniffing boy ([Rowan] McNamara) and a young woman ([Marissa] Gibson) in a run-down rural community, this stellar regional take on l'amour fou displays a fresh but fully formed sensibility. It's like an Aboriginal version of Head-On, complete with punkish wild-child energy, culture clashes and the sort of self-destructive downward spirals that usually spell doom for young lovers." More from Sam Adams (Slant), Caitlin Bahrey (L), Neil Genzlinger (NYT), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE) and Andrew Schenker (Voice).
Melissa Anderson in the Voice on Down Terrace: "UK TV vet Ben Wheatley's zingy, caustic first feature about the pathetic dad-son kingpins of a two-bit syndicate in Brighton plays as a kitchen-sink black comedy — one clogged up with a nasty hairball of filial rage, parental scorn, regression, and humiliation. The more gruesome violence stems not from criminal behavior, but from the intractable muck of the nuclear family." More from David Fear (TONY), Stephen Holden (NYT) and Noel Murray (AV Club). Susan King talks with Wheatley for the LAT.
"A melodrama with comic punctuation, Nora's Will is about secrets and lies and a narrative imperative that every unhappy life must end not only with death but with closure too," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. "The extent of both Nora's legacy and determination emerges after her relatives and friends begin entering and exiting her immaculate apartment, coming to terms with her death amid talk, food and flashbacks. [Director Mariana] Chenillo continually tries to lighten the mood with laughter, sometimes by underlining the differences between the unsmiling Orthodox Jewish and more freewheeling Christian interlopers. The comedy and tone both falter." More from Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant), Nick Pinkerton (Voice) and James van Maanen.
Eric Hynes in Time Out New York on Murilo Pasta's Carmo, Hit the Road: "Fleeing the clutches of her hypocritical, hyper-Catholic mother, Carmo ([Mariana] Loureiro) hitchhikes her way to a living hell of haphazard parking-lot hookups. Then she meets Marco ([Fele] Martínez), a scruffy smuggler who mopes around in a wheelchair. And we're off — on a frenetic, ham-fisted tour through the grimiest stretches of Brazil and Bolivia, leaving no crass stereotype behind (witness drunk, unkempt Brazilian men ass-grabbing ladies with knives unsheathed) and no bodily function unrecorded. It's the type of movie that thinks blending adolescent in-yo-face shock tactics with big-sky romanticism automatically equals some unique hybrid — like Y Tu Mamá También as directed by Mysterious Skin's Gregg Araki." More from Jesse Cataldo (Slant), Mike Hale (NYT), Ernest Hardy (Voice) and James van Maanen.
"Despite sharing a surname, Pablo Escobar and Andrés Escobar were not related and did not, by all accounts, have a particularly special relationship, at least no more special than any Colombian national soccer player had with the most notorious and powerful drug kingpin in history," writes the AV Club's Scott Tobias. "Jeff and Michael Zimbalist's arresting documentary The Two Escobars — aired as part of ESPN's 30 For 30 documentary series, and now getting a theatrical run — finds connections deeply embedded in a soccer culture fueled by the country's thieving cocaine trade." More from Chuck Bowen (Slant), David Fear (TONY), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE) and Karina Longworth (Voice).
"Inspired by the legend of a utopian metropolis called Urville (you can supposedly see it as a mirage off the Mediterranean coast), director Angela Christlieb visits three Gallic villages that all go by that name," writes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York. "Though no cohesive themes emerge, individual moments... are still deeply moving. At its best, the film recalls several of Agnès Varda's sublime nonfiction efforts, which examine the eccentric branches of French life with incisive curiosity. Christlieb has a similarly good eye for human idiosyncrasy; hopefully, she'll give it a stronger showcase next time." More from Mike Hale (NYT), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), James van Maanen and Bill Weber (Slant).
"Gerrymandering exists not to excite the politically engaged, but to educate the politically apathetic," writes Slant's Ed Gonzalez. "Apparently it's a fine line, because even those with more than a passing interest in how politicians are elected are unaware of how electoral district boundaries are modified by members of our two major political parties for electoral purposes. With an arsenal of talking heads that includes Prop 11 supporter Arnold Schwarzenegger (seeming more and more like a Democrat everyday), archival film footage, punchy graphics, and an unbearable soundtrack of ominous music at his disposal, filmmaker Jeff Reichert lectures his audience on the meaning of gerrymandering without ever getting to the heart of how it hurts the democratic process." More from Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), Stephen Holden (NYT), Noel Murray (AV Club), Michelle Orange (Voice) and S James Snyder (TONY). The L's Mark Asch interviews Reichert.
THE HORROR, THE HORROR
"The problem with reviewing a movie called Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives is that you're required to admit publicly that you have actually watched a movie called Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives," notes Neil Genzlinger in the NYT. "Anyway, this film, written — not much effort there — and directed by Israel Luna, calls itself an exploitation thriller and seeks to parody bad horror films, bad blaxploitation films, bad martial-arts films, maybe even bad baseball films (a baseball bat being just as important to the story as the knives of the title). It's difficult to judge something that's trying to mock something inept; is its own ineptness sheer genius or just ineptness?"
"It sounds like an extra act to Ratatouille," suggests Mark Olsen in the Voice: "A disgraced celebrity chef (James LeGros) kidnaps a food blogger (Joshua Leonard) who slammed him, forcing a regimen of torture and cooking lessons upon his quarry. In writer-director Joe Maggio's delightfully nasty Bitter Feast, there are no heroes — only levels of villainy, with two outsize egos bruised in different ways. Once the premise is launched, the film settles down to a simple series of mind-game one-on-ones between the chef and the blogger, each struggling to hold on to the safety of his carefully cultivated persona." More from Chuck Bowen (Slant), Paul Brunick (NYT) and Eric Kohn (indieWIRE).
"Certain architectural works — the photo-resistant designs of Alvar Aalto come to mind — are difficult if not impossible to understand in still imagery, and are made fully comprehensible only through films that move around and inside them," writes Martin Filler for the New York Review of Books. "The first Architecture and Design Film Festival, being held in New York [yesterday] through Sunday, offers a rare opportunity to see in close succession more than forty examples of the genre." Somewhat related: Nicolai Ouroussoff in the NYT on Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement, at MoMA through January 3.
The Chicago Reader's JR Jones rounds up links and clips for area screenings.
IN THE UK
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "Wordless for long stretches, [Sophie Fiennes's] Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow could be described as a 'participatory documentary' in the sense that the filmmaker gets alongside her subject and in some way contributes to the art being created: her camera responds creatively to what it sees, it modifies and transforms the spectacle. The film's subject is the 65-year-old artist Anselm Kiefer who in 1993 left his native Germany and settled in Barjac in France, where he bought a derelict silk factory, transforming it into an extraordinary artistic centre, a Gesamtkunstwerk, or complete artwork: at once the place where his paintings and sculptures are housed and displayed, and a colossal, evolving architectural artwork in itself."
"The film's commitment to letting these pieces stake their own claim on the attention is impressive," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey, "and yet – there's no non-Philistine way to say this – the running time is almost twice what you ideally want it to be. Fiennes has distinguished herself already with the Gospel doc Hoover Street Revival (2002) and a fascinating Slavoj Žižek lecture called The Pervert's Guide to Cinema (2006). Her next one's about Grace Jones. That does sound more fun."
More from Dave Calhoun (Time Out London), Lisa Mullen (Sight & Sound) and Anthony Quinn (Independent). Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Alastair Sooke talks with Fiennes for the Telegraph.
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