For this week's roundup on movies opening in theaters, let's start with the UK since Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll looks like it may be the most interesting of the bunch. As it happens, on the day of its UK premiere, the Berlinale (February 11 through 21) has announced that it's one of 25 films (out of eventual total of 50) to be screened in the Panorama section.
First up, the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "A barnstorming, passionate performance from Andy Serkis brings 1970s music legend Ian Dury stunningly back to life in this gutsy biopic, written by Paul Viragh, directed by Mat Whitecross and produced by Serkis himself. It's obviously a labour of love, but it never looks laborious. Dury was the singer-songwriter and pugnacious polio survivor who in the glorious anyone-can-have-a-go era of punk became a mega-star. Andy Serkis's recreation of Dury gave me goosepimples, and his vocals - Serkis himself sings all the classic tracks with the real band, the Blockheads - are eerily good."
Time Out London's Tom Huddleston finds it to be "a riot of clattering noise and kaleidoscopic colour, off-kilter imagery and foul language, all the good things the title promises and much more. Taking his cue not just from former collaborator Michael Winterbottom's celebrated Factory exposé [24 Hour Party People] but from Todd Haynes's ramshackle, revisionist rock 'n' roll masterpieces, Velvet Goldmine and I'm Not There, Whitecross presents Dury as a verbally abusive, dishonest, thoroughly disreputable but endlessly fascinating lyrical genius, exploring his past in a way that informs - but never seeks to explain - his present."
More from Fionnuala Halligan (Screen, where Sarah Cooper presents a "Financing case study"), Ben Machell (Times), Andrew O'Hagan (Evening Standard) and Anthony Quinn (Independent). Time Out's Dave Calhoun paid a visit to the set and talked with Serkis.
"The low-budget rock'n'roll biopic is fast emerging as British cinema's favourite new genre," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "Anton Corbijn's Control (2007), about Joy Division's ill-fated lead singer, Ian Curtis, kick-started a wave of films that has continued with Nick Moran's Telstar (about record producer Joe Meek), and now Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy (about the youthful John Lennon) and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (about Ian Dury). A feature is being planned about The Kinks and there have also been a rash of British-made feature documentaries about everybody from Scott Walker to Joe Strummer and Dr Feelgood. The new wave of rock biopics follows on from films like 24 Hour Party People, Backbeat and Stoned." So here's the question he sets out to answer: "Where does this cinematic fascination come from?" Also: A look ahead to a dozen or so films by British filmmakers opening some time this year (see, too, the entry on what we can look forward to in 2010).
"In Mugabe and the White African, Michael Campbell, a gentle, dry, 75-year-old farmer from Zimbabwe, asks: 'Is it possible to be white and African?' If you're President Mugabe, the answer is a brutal 'no.'" Ben Machell in the Times: "This powerful documentary pits Campbell and his son-in-law Ben Freeth against their country's dictator in a battle for their farm, which is holding out - just - against the land seizure campaign that has already led to thousands of white Zimbabweans being forcibly evicted. Their plan? To take the Government of 'a country without a rulebook' to an international tribunal that will force it to stop."
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Dave Calhoun (Time Out) and Anthony Quinn (Independent).
"We may remember Sadie Benning's Pixelvision bedroom with alt-film fondness, but look out," warns Michael Atkinson in the Voice. "There's a new DIY no-budget sheriff in town. Zachary Oberzan's Flooding With Love for the Kid is inevitably at one with its concept - to remake First Blood (or, more accurately, adapt David Morrell's original novel), in a 220-square-foot apartment with one video camera and one lone wild-eyed filmmaker/actor/editor/designer/soundman.... It's a stunt, maybe inspired by Son of Rambow or even Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, but one with escalating resonance.... The film might play as a YouTube-y farce for a downtown audience, hard to say, but so far, it's the best movie of 2010."
Matt Zoller Seitz actually knows this guy. Oberzan took a role in his own low-budget film shot in an apartment, Home. Now, for the L Magazine, MZS presents a video essay on Flooding With Love and Rambo's impact on 80s and 90s culture.
More from Neil Genzlinger (New York Times), Aaron Hillis (Time Out New York), Anthony Kaufman (IFC), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nicolas Rapold (L), James van Maanen and Bill Weber (Slant). At New York's Anthology Film Archives through Thursday.
"Youth in Revolt, which was directed by Miguel Arteta, and skillfully extracted by Gustin Nash from the novel by CD Payne, centers on a familiar type," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "the frustrated virgin. (Is there any other kind beyond the convent?) The agonies of virginity have inspired myriad novels and films, if not always with as much humor as in Mr Payne's telling. Another novelist, Glen David Gold, has called Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp the 'funniest book ever written,' suggesting a connection to Richardson's Clarissa.... As a director Mr Arteta, whose previous movies include Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl, has the kind of quiet talent that can be easy to overlook. He's particularly good with actors, partly because he doesn't crowd or push them.... What counts here is the telling and not the tale, how the camera races after Nick [Michael Cera] when he runs down a street, then moves in front of him, as if to encourage his flight. What counts is how Mr Cera's face, much like that of a silent-screen actor, conveys sincerity and a sense of wonder, in part because, like those performers, he doesn't seem corrupted by the camera's attention."
More from David Berry (Vue Weekly), Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Ed Champion, Simon Dang (Playlist), Marcy Dermansky, Michelle Devereaux (Bay Guardian), Erin Donovan, Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), David Edelstein (NPR), Eric Grandy (Stranger), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Robert Horton (Herald), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Kim Morgan (IFC), Neil Morris (Independent Weekly), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Rodney Perkins (Twitch), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Mary Pols (Time), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Andrew Schenker (Slant), Duncan Shepherd (San Diego Reader), Henry Stewart (L), Martin Tsai (Critic's Notebook), Keith Uhlich (TONY), Robert Wilonsky (Voice) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.
Interviews with Cera: Molly Eichel (Philadephia City Paper), Logan Hill (New York) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline). Nathan Rabin talks with Cera and Portia Doubleday for the AV Club. Tom Roston gets a few words with Arteta and producer David Permut for the Los Angeles Times. Online listening. IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore "look at the movies love affair with doppelgangers, from Superman's junkyard brawl with Clark Kent to David Lynch's wistful dream of starting from scratch."
"After the dreary imitativeness of their horror-comedy debut Undead, the Spierig brothers find themselves once again on derivative ground with Daybreakers, a story situated in a future world where the dominant population consists of vampires who hunt the last vestiges of humanity for blood," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Employing an Underworld-ish metallic gray-blue aesthetic, operatic slow-mo straight out of every other post-Matrix action film, and panoramas of human farms also reminiscent of the Wachowskis' sci-fi trilogy, the Spierigs' latest doesn't do much to carve out a unique identity, save for the inclusion of a few minor details (such as cars retrofitted for vampire sunlight driving) that lend a bit of depth to their reasonably well-realized alternate universe."
More from Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper), Matt Barone (Critic's Notebook), Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Ed Champion, Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Nigel Floyd (Time Out London), Peter Hartlaub (San Francisco Chronicle), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Andrew Pulver (Guardian), Michael O'Sullivan (Washington Post), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Henry Stewart (L), Drew Taylor (Playlist) and Scott Tobias (NPR).
Josef Braun talks with Willem Dafoe; interviews with Ethan Hawke: Jacob Bernstein (Daily Beast), Steven James Snyder (Techland) and Yvonne Villarreal (LAT).
"The most expressive feature of Matthew Broderick's character in Wonderful World is his facial hair, a permanent 5 o'clock shadow that suggests a man who can barely bring himself to get up in the morning, much less to shave." Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "The movie could be called a journey to Gillette, and it's an agonizing one at that, a paint-by-numbers tale of redemption for a man whose wounds are mostly self-inflicted. Playing the latest in a long line of world-weary schlubs, Broderick evinces sympathy where other actors might not, and writer-director Joshua Goldin certainly has his heart in the right place. But it takes the grace of two Senegalese immigrants and heaven above to set this character's life on course, and the effort is grossly disproportionate to his problems."
More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Stephen Holden (NYT), Nick Schager (Slant), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and Chris Wisniewski (Reverse Shot). Jonah Weiner profiles Goldin for the NYT. Interviews with Broderick: Kyle Buchanan (Movieline) and Aaron Hillis (IFC).
"What makes Leap Year so singularly dispiriting is precisely that it is bad without distinction - so witless, charmless and unimaginative that it can be described as a movie only in a strictly technical sense." AO Scott in the NYT: "Leap Year is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). No sex. No jokes. No serious swearing. No violence. Nothing."
More from Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), Aaron Cutler (Slant), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Tim Grierson (Emanuel Levy), Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle), Brian Miller (Voice), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), Eric D Snider (Cinematical), Benjamin Sutton (L) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
"Who knew that one of this year's first horror movies would arrive not from Japan or the mind of Eli Roth but from three inquisitive nonfiction filmmakers?" asks Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. "Turning their camera on the apocalyptic beliefs of American evangelicals (estimated in the film at more than 50 million), Kate Davis, Franco Sacchi and David Heilbroner illuminate a worldview marked by absolute certainty and chilling finality."
Ella Taylor in the Voice: "Jews and Israelis who take comfort from the unsolicited affection of evangelical Christians - who give more than $75 million annually to Israel and exert an alarming pull on Washington - might think again after they've seen Waiting for Armageddon, which brings the interesting news that, when the apocalypse comes, Jews will either convert to Christianity or be burned to a crisp along with all the other heathens. With friends like these, enemies need not apply. And with enemies like these, Muslims - repeatedly reviled as 'Islamofascists' by the upstanding reverends of the Church as they trudge round Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem - need no others."
More from Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant) and Noel Murray (AV Club). IndieWIRE interviews David Heilbroner.
"It's not often that you are invited to spend an hour or two in the presence of a Nobel Prize winner, and In Search of Memory: The Neuroscientist Eric Kandel, Petra Seeger's new documentary, offers an especially gratifying opportunity," writes AO Scott in the NYT.
Adds Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant: "Seeger doesn't do much more than follow Kandel around as he plays the giddy, elderly science rock star at lectures and international labs and reminisces gravely about his young life in Nazi-occupied Austria, and the convoluted significance of his cranial research is occasionally dumbed down to the visceral but ambiguous curiosity of watching dendrites spontaneously sprout on a monitor. But the Nobel Laureate narrates us through his eventful life, and his autumnal efforts to reconnect with the jagged fragments of his painful childhood, with enough Jewish wisecracks and thickly Yiddish diphthongs to redeem even the unnecessarily picturesque sepia of the dramatized flashbacks."
And Kandel's a guest on Talk of the Nation.
"San Francisco filmmaker Geralyn Pezanoski stumbled upon a heck of an underreported story amid the wasteland caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 - the thousands upon thousands of lost pets rescued and sent to shelters across the nation." G Allen Johnson in the Chronicle: "Mine, which won audience awards for best documentary at the South by Southwest Film festival in Austin, Texas, and at San Francisco's DocFest in October... opens [today] at the Roxie and becomes available on iTunes." More from Michael Fox at KQED.
"One of the highlights for me of last year's Independent Film Festival of Boston was a documentary called Trust Us, This is All Made Up about the high-flying improvisation team of TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi," writes Ty Burr in the Globe. "The film's directed by Alex Karpovsky, who may be better known as an actor in mumblecore movies like Beeswax, and the reason I'm gassing on about it is that you actually have a chance to see Trust Us on Saturday at the Somerville Theatre, when the film and Karpovsky show up for screenings at 7 and 9:30 pm. Highly recommended: The first 20 minutes are a somewhat tedious talking-heads set-up; the rest is one of their improvs in its entirety, a bent saga of corporate intrigue in which the two play the entire staff of a midsized company as it goes sailing down the tubes."
Yesterday's entry made note of Peter Keough's overview in the Phoenix of Boston Festival of Films from Iran, opening tonight and running through January 17. In today's Boston Globe, Mark Feeney interviews Maziar Bahari: "While serving as Newsweek's correspondent in Iran, he was imprisoned last year by the Iranian government and held on unspecified charges for 118 days. Tomorrow at the Museum of Fine Arts, the ILEX Foundation is scheduled to present Bahari with its Award for Excellence in Iranian Cinema. At 7 pm, the MFA will host the world premiere of Bahari's An Iranian Odyssey: Mossadegh, Oil, and the 1953 Coup. The 50-minute documentary recounts the CIA-backed overthrow of the Iranian nationalist prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh."
The series Base Instincts: Verhoeven in the USA runs on weekend midnights, starting from tonight through February 20, at IFC Center in New York. "The intergalactic military epic Starship Troopers may be the most analytically exacting critique of Fascist aesthetics this side of Susan Sontag," writes Paul Brunick for the L Magazine, "but for director Paul Verhoeven 'the essence of the movie is really young kids fighting giant bugs.' It's a characteristically smartass description of his slyly subversive blockbuster, but what makes the gloss so funny is that it's also perfectly sincere. Buzzing with armies of CG insects and enough high-school drama for an outer-space spin off of The OC, Starship Troopers is at once an anti-imperialist allegory and a mindlessly satisfying piece of schlock. And therein lies the brilliance of Paul Verhoeven, the bastard son of Jerry Bruckheimer and Bertolt Brecht."
"Guy Maddin will be in residency at the Cinema Studies Institute, Innis College, at the University of Toronto January 12-15, 2010 to present a series of autobiographical lectures and narrated films in a rare, extended self-examination of his work to date."
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