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"Somewhere," "True Grit," More

"The crippling and cruel, not to mention pretty foolish, response to Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette (2006) was perhaps inevitably going to inspire an aesthetic retreat on her part," writes Roderick Heath at Ferdy on Films. "Somewhere's unexpected win of the Golden Lion at the 2010 Venice Film Festival (putting aside the dubious aspersions cast on Coppola's former boyfriend and festival jury head Quentin Tarantino's motives) seemed to indicate otherwise. Her name stokes furious charges of nepotism as the reason for her career successes, and yet I can't help but think that if she were anyone else, she'd be far more acclaimed. Somewhere does bear the weight of some heavy expectations, especially from me: her poetic-realist vision is one of my favourites on the current American scene. Few working directors have managed a triple-header like she had with The Virgin Suicides (1999), Lost in Translation (2003), and Marie Antoinette, all as amusing and original as any of her ballyhooed young American rivals, wider in scope, and deeper in empathy for her characters than most."

The Telegraph's Tim Robey notes that this new one's "about a bedraggled Hollywood action hunk called Johnny Marco, played with sheepish charm by Stephen Dorff, and the many ways in which he fritters away his time. He's half-asleep in his Chateau Marmont hotel room, while two pole-dancing twins perform funny, coy routines at the end of his bed, unsure when they should pack up. On every balcony, there's a budding actress beckoning, which is a problem when Johnny's tweenage daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning, assured and delightful) wants to spend time with him, visiting by surprise."

"It's a pleasure and maybe a relief to see how gracefully Coppola navigates the perpetually crowded playing field of insider Hollywood satire," notes Jonathan Kiefer in the Faster Times. "Somewhere makes good use of her spartan, gently ironic aesthetic, wisely acknowledging that in this milieu the satire will take care of itself, if one just waits long enough. Here, a lack of inflection seems like the right choice, possibly the only choice."

In the Voice, Melissa Anderson warns that "those who groan that the writer-director has made another indulgent film about the obscenely privileged have overlooked Coppola's redoubtable gifts at capturing milieu, languor, and exacting details." More from Chris Barsanti (PopMatters, 6/10), Tom Birchenough (Arts Desk), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 2 out of 5), Richard Brody (New Yorker), Dave Calhoun (Time Out London, 3 out of 5), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 4/4), Cheryl Eddy (San Francisco Bay Guardian), David Ehrlich (Cinematical), David Fear (Time Out New York, 3/5), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Toby Manning (Quietus), Paul Matwychuk, Benjamin Mercer (L), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 2/4), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Keith Phipps (AV Club, B), Hank Sartin (Time Out Chicago, 3/5), Nick Schager (B), AO Scott (New York Times), Dana Stevens (Slate), Armond White (New York Press), Alison Willmore (IFC), Ella Taylor (NPR) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 10/10). A couple of weeks ago, Dan Callahan and the cinetrix tussled over the notion of "Rich Girl Cinema." Earlier: Reviews from Venice.

Of all the interviews with and profiles of Coppola, you really only need one, Karina Longworth's for the LA Weekly. Completists, though, can turn to Sam Adams (Salon), Kyle Buchanan (Vulture), Chris Lee (LAT), Dennis Lim (NYT), Erik McClanahan (Playlist), Lauren O'Neill-Butler (Artforum, video, 3'31"), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), the Telegraph and she's a guest on Fresh Air. Interviews with Dorff: Stephen Saito (IFC) and Damon Wise (Guardian). Jeffrey M Anderson talks with both for Cinematical. Frank Bruni profiles Fanning for the NYT. Louis Virtel talks with the lot of them for Movieline. Daniel D'Addario talks with Chris Pontius for Interview.

"After three consecutive films fixated on the absurd cruelty and randomness of life, Joel and Ethan Coen adopt a slightly more heartening perspective with True Grit, which hews surprisingly closely to both Charles Portis's novel and the 1969 Henry Hathaway-helmed big-screen adaptation that netted John Wayne his only Best Actor Oscar." Nick Schager in Slant: "To be sure, unflinching and remorseless violence and amorality abound in this rugged vision of the Old West. Yet at heart, the Coen brothers' latest is a straightforward revenge-driven oater in which control and order are achievable, albeit at potentially significant cost."

"Opening with a strategically abbreviated Old Testament proverb ('The wicked flee when none pursueth'), True Grit is well-wrought, if overly talkative, and seriously ambitious, returning the Coens to the all-American sagebrush and gun smoke landscape that has best nourished their wise-guy sensibility (Blood Simple, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men)." The Voice's J Hoberman: "This perverse buddy tale, in which an implacable 14-year-old girl (Hailee Steinfeld) bonds in vengeance with the one-eyed, one-note bounty-hunting windbag marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges in the Wayne role), is one of the brothers' least facetious movies — despite a prolonged meet-cute as little Mattie stubbornly attempts to roust Rooster from a rustic privy to secure his aid in tracking her father's murderer into Indian territory."

More from Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper), Marjorie Baumgarten (Austin Chronicle, 3/5), Sean Burns (Philadelphia Weekly, A), Richard Corliss (Time), Manohla Dargis (NYT), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3.5/4), David Edelstein (NPR), Kurt Halfyard (Twitch), JR Jones (Chicago Reader), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 5/5), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago, 4/5), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix, 3.5/4), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 2.5/4), Phil Nugent, Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Keith Phipps (AV Club, A-), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Michael Joshua Rowin (L), John Rubio (San Diego Reader), Dana Stevens (Slate), Justin Stewart (Reverse Shot), David Thomson (New Republic), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Daily Notebook), Armond White (NYP), Mike Wilmington (Movie City News) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 8.5/10). Earlier: Reviews gathered over the past couple of weeks.

In the Boston Globe, Saul Austerlitz argues that "when studied in the proper light — a slightly warped, Coensian light, if you will — their entire career, from their debut, Blood Simple, to True Grit, can be seen as a series of stealth remakes, overhauling obscure or overlooked films, often entire genres, in one fell swoop." Interviews with the Coens: Nicole LaPorte (Daily Beast) and John Lopez (Vanity Fair). Interviews with Steinfeld: Amy Kaufman (LAT) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline). Erik Davis talks with Matt Damon at Cinematical. Aaron Horkey's designed a set of nifty posters for Mondo.

Charles Portis, who wrote the novel in 1968, is "not a Pynchonesque recluse, exactly," writes Charles McGrath in the New York Times, but he "doesn't use e-mail, has an unlisted phone number, declines interview requests, including one for this article, and shuns photographs with the ardor of a fugitive in the witness protection program. He hasn't published a novel in nearly 20 years.... His elusiveness has only enhanced his status as a cult writer's cult writer, cherished by a small but devoted following. He has published four novels besides True Grit (all five have recently been reissued in paperback by the Overlook Press), and for years those in the sect have been pressing them on new readers like Masons teaching the secret handshake. The journalist Ron Rosenbaum, the unofficial grand vizier and first hierophant of Portis admirers, has called him 'perhaps the most original, indescribable sui generis talent overlooked by literary culture in America.'"

"Portis's novel is anchored by the starched voice of Mattie Ross, a stiff-backed Presbyterian," writes R Emmet Sweeney for TCM. "It is her voice that captivates, a preternaturally calm control stabbed with stubborn wit, rarely exhibiting the childishness of her age. As Ed Park wrote in his epic ode to Portis in The Believer, 'Her steadfast, unsentimental voice — Portis's sublime ventriloquism — maintains such purity of purpose that the prose seems engraved rather than merely writ.'" For the Stranger's Paul Constant, Portis is "one of the greatest American humorists, possibly third only to Vonnegut and Twain." Ross's voice in True Grit is "as Shakespearean as American English has ever sounded."

"The Coens lifted almost all of their film's comically ornate dialogue from the pages of True Grit," notes John Jurgensen in the Wall Street Journal: "(Joel said the idea to adapt the book started when he read it aloud to his son.) Another Portis film could be on the horizon. A trio of producers, including Bill Hader of Saturday Night Live, has an option on 1979's The Dog of the South. A favorite of Portis aficionados, the book follows narrator Ray Midge on a meandering journey to Mexico to reclaim his wife and, more importantly, the Ford Torino in which she and her lover Guy Dupree absconded."

"Grief can be messy, and who better than Lee Chang-dong, director of Oasis and the upcoming Poetry, to show how bad it can get," writes Nicolas Rapold, reviewing Secret Sunshine for the L. "Young widow Shin-ae (Cannes winner Jeon Do-yeon, currently also The Housemaid) starts the story essentially lost, having picked up stakes with her adorable son and moved to her late husband's small hometown. If I tell you that her life is soon rocked by a second tragedy, you'll probably figure out that it involves the kid, so there it is. Actor and director proceed to track Shin-ae's emotional breakdown and spiritual crises in one of 2010's 20 best films, from 2007 (when it first premiered)."

"Lee is certainly attentive to the routines and rhythms of everyday life," writes AO Scott in the NYT. "But there is nothing ordinary about this movie, or about the story it tells. On its surface the transparent and horrifying tale of a mother's grief, Secret Sunshine has the kind of emotional depth and thematic complexity that rewards repeat viewings."

"Like a twisted sister to Rabbit Hole, Secret Sunshine doesn't just posit grief but probes the hidden biology of it, like a parasite slowly chewing up its host from the inside," writes Michael Atkinson in the Voice. More from Noel Murray (AV Club, B+), Nick Schager (A-), Keith Uhlich (TONY, 4/5) and James van Maanen. At the IFC Center.

"Stare at Borneo native Nénette, a 41-year-old orangutan who's lived at the zoo in Paris's Jardin des Plantes since 1972, long enough, and she begins to resemble another stolid, thick-set immigrant to France: Gertrude Stein," suggests Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "Documentarian Nicolas Philibert, whose long, observational takes made even the conjugation of auxiliary verbs fascinating in his country-school portrait, To Be and to Have (2002), invites such projections, his camera trained almost exclusively on the russet-haired simian for 70 minutes."

"The film's narrative elliptically presents a series of contexts through which we glean Nénette's rather epic story," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant. "Her handlers nostalgically recount her birth in captivity, the difficulties of her feisty adolescence (she couldn't even be touched without sedation until later in life), her inevitable encounters with an adoring global media, and the medical events that catalyzed her decline into docility. Each of these biographical anecdotes is paired with a bystander's monologue that free-associates with her current state: one zoo-goer is reminded that 'in [ancient] Egypt, they killed redheads after birth... because of the devil'; another becomes obsessed with Nénette's lack of a mate ('You need someone, even at her age,' she whispers). The orangutan's exaggerated humanoid behavior provokes fancy, philosophy, alarm. She becomes a noble mascot of endangerment, an impetus for an argument about gender politics, a slightly shaggy iteration of Shakespeare's paragon of animals, and even, when younger orangutans threaten her Parisian spotlight, an icy if impotent Margo Channing."

"Like all great stars, Nénette is an enigma," writes Amy Taubin for Artforum. More on Nénette from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Nicolas Rapold (TONY, 3/5), Scott Tobias (AV Club, C+) and James van Maanen. At New York's Film Forum through January 4.

"A mummified body is found inside a plastic hut, victim of a meticulously planned suicide by starvation," begins Diego Costa in Slant. "There's a diary by its side detailing a man's 60-plus days of slow, calculated death. Inspired by a true event and based on a Shimada Masahiko novella, The Sound of Insects defies genre definition by juxtaposing the narration of the supposed 'suicide artist' with evocative imagery of the supposed woods where his deathly performance might have occurred.... Economical and violent like a psychoanalyst's words in a good session, The Sound of Insects matches its subject's aural accounts of daily activities (listening to Bach, reading Beckett, jerking off) with scenes of tree branches being pounded by the rain, silhouetted crowds walking at airport terminals, spotted horses trotting about, heavily lipsticked women staring into oblivion and a beautiful, a freaky shot of dripping stuffed animals hanging to dry on a clothesline." 3 out of 4 stars.

But for Andrew Schenker, writing in the Voice, "if [Peter] Liechti's film presents a skillful enough assemblage of image/music/text, without additional context surrounding its subject's life, sharing the man's final excruciating moments eventually devolves into an exercise in morbidity, an experience considerably more ponderous than profound."

More from Rachel Saltz (NYT) and James van Maanen. At the Rubin Museum in New York through January 9.

"It's helpful to remember that Meet the Parents was a sound idea for a comedy, turning the common anxiety of meeting future in-laws into a reasonably entertaining, relatable mix of cringe-humor and slapstick," writes the AV Club's Scott Tobias. "The sequel, Meet the Fockers, strained the concept to a thin broth, but at least introduced another set of in-laws. Now that everyone has met, Little Fockers, the abysmal second sequel, literally has nowhere to go but up some poor guy's ass. Barely 10 minutes have elapsed before Ben Stiller, still a male nurse (snicker, snicker), and Jessica Alba, a flirtatious pharmaceutical saleswoman, are working an enema tube in some disgusting dance of seduction. From there, the film piles on erectile-dysfunction jokes, blood, vomit, farts — anything to keep this zombie franchise within the general realm of mainstream comedy."

"Part of what made the first movies work as well as they did... was the cultural clash that dare not fully speak its name," notes the NYT's Manohla Dargis. "Initially, the series only broadly winked at the reasons for Jack's [Robert De Niro] slow-burning tsuris. Was that a bagel in Greg's pocket, or was he just glad to see his shiksa girlfriend and then wife, Pam (Teri Polo)? But when the second movie brought in Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman to play Greg's parents, any residual anxiety about the characters' nominal cultural differences gave way to the spectacle of two legends playfully batting around the Jewish stereotypes that the stars themselves struggled against and transcended. How do you top Ms Streisand and Mr Hoffman playing at being the happy, sexy hippie couple for easy jokes? You don't. Apparently, you don't even try, as is evident from the new movie's lack of wit and surplus of lazy scenes."

More from Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 3/5), Veronica Lee (Arts Desk), Matt Luby (Stranger), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 4.5/10), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Mary Pols (Time), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 2/5), Nick Schager (Slant, 0.5/4), Sarah Shanfield (L) and Eric D Snider (Cinematical).

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