"Given all the gene-mapping and cloning these days," begins New York's David Edelstein, "you'd think movies would be lousy with Frankenstein scenarios and cautionary tales in which technology outpaces our understanding of how to employ it. But mostly we get zombies, splatter, torture porn, zombies, lame remakes, zombies... In the context of modern horror, a solid B-movie like Vincenzo Natali's Splice looks positively splendiferous, with a mixture of icky and poignant and terrifying that works like gangbusters. It's David Cronenberg Lite — a dash of The Brood, a soupcon of The Fly — but that's not a bad thing."
"Dren is the product of science run amok — part amphibian, part bird, and part supermodel, created by biochemist couple Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) before the plug is pulled on their controversial splicing-stuff-together program." Ed Gonzalez in Slant: "But when Elsa hybridizes her latest freak show, is it really for the sake of curing our deadliest diseases or is it to make for herself the child Clive won't give her? Inquiring minds want to know — and the fact that we never really get a grasp of Elsa's intentions is part of Splice's problem."
"Ultimately, what sinks Splice is a complete absence of the playfully mordant myth-making that distinguishes executive producer Guillermo del Toro's own films," finds Bruce Bennett at IFC.com. "Yes the idea of both scientific advancement and couplehood falling prey to the same human foibles is an interesting one. But does it have to be so single-mindedly joyless?"
"Mr Natali, whose earlier films include Cube, hasn't reinvented the horror genre," concedes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "But with Splice he has done the next best thing with an intelligent movie that, in between its small boos and an occasional hair-raising jolt, explores chewy issues like bioethics, abortion, corporate-sponsored science, commitment problems between lovers and even Freudian-worthy family dynamics. The shivers might often outweigh the scares, and Mr Natali loses his way in the last half-hour. Yet working with actors who make you care and a neo-Frankenstein creation that touchingly does, too, he has become one of the genre's new great fright hopes."
More from Mike D'Angelo (Las Vegas Weekly), Michelle Devereaux (San Francisco Bay Guardian), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Bill Gibron (PopMatters), Robert Horton (Herald), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Michael Ordoña (Los Angeles Times), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), Hank Sartin (Time Out Chicago), Henry Stewart (L), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York) and Armond White (New York Press). Peter Hall talks with Natali for Cinematical and you can listen to Aaron Hillis's interview at GreenCine Daily.
"Neil Jordan is a master in eclecticism, but not subtlety, and he proves it once again with Ondine: a revisionist fairy tale that opens on a fisherman, Syracuse (Colin Farrell), who catches a coy woman (Alicja Bachleda) in his net." Nick McCarthy in the L Magazine.
"Who is she?" asks Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "Where did she come from? Bachleda offers no answers and may not even know herself. But Farrell's daughter (Alison Barry), a spirited girl in spite of the failing kidney that keeps her wheelchair-bound much of the time, thinks she has an answer. Barry knows about selkies, seal women who can take off their coats, assume human form and, if they like, settle down with what they call landsmen, at least for a little while."
"Remarkably, Jordan continues to get a fair amount of mileage out of the is-she-or-isn't-she-a-mermaid suspense up until the film's rushed third act," finds Chris Wisniewski in Reverse Shot. "Even so, the ambiguity of Ondine's nature is less important to Jordan than the hope she brings his wayward characters. Here, as in The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto, reality and fantasy seem to commingle, and the fantastic offers respite from the uninviting and unforgiving social environment in which the movie is set. Unlike those earlier films, though, Ondine is grounded in naturalism.... Low-key without being slight, Ondine heralds a welcome, if not monumental, return to form for Jordan after the misbegotten Jodie Foster vehicle The Brave One. It also marks the first time he has worked with longtime Wong Kar-wai cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and predictably, the result of their collaboration is quite lovely."
More from Manohla Dargis (NYT, where Terrence Rafferty has a backgrounder), Ed Gonzalez (Slant), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Karina Longworth (Voice), Ella Taylor (NPR), Keith Uhlich (TONY), Armond White (NYP) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Paul McGuirk interviews Jordan for Cineaste and IFC's Matt Singer gets a few minutes with Jordan and Farrell.
"Bad-boy British comedian Russell Brand made his long-delayed American breakthrough stealing every scene that wasn't nailed down in 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "As self-regarding horndog rock star Aldous Snow, Brand mined blithe narcissism for massive laughs, adding a surprising streak of kindness to a character that in lesser hands might have been a cardboard scoundrel. But, let's face it, a little of this guy goes a long way. If Hannibal Lecter couldn't carry his own movie, what hope is there for Aldous Snow?"
"Film critics, bloggers and other arbiters of cultural taste bloodthirstily bash the Sex and the City films for indulging in and promoting unrealistic fantasies (that urbane, libidinally liberated ladies really want a man to take care of them; that older women could be successful sexual aggressors)." Karina Longworth in the LA Weekly: Get Him to the Greek, "in the current tradition of Hollywood bromances, traffics in a general fear of sex, ultimately suggesting that the only thing men really want is a woman who'll take care of them. It's the same fairy tale, with the genders flipped.... Greek, as directed by Nicholas Stoller, feels slopped together according to the Apatow Productions schematic, but its late-inning morality lacks organic purpose and rings false — this is, remember, a film about a rock star whose brand is depravity. Under Apatow's direction, when boys move beyond their base desires, it's character development. Under Stoller's, it's a buzzkill."
More from Marjorie Baumgarten (Austin Chronicle), Richard Corliss (Time), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Molly Eichel (Philadelphia City Paper), Peter Hall (Cinematical), Robert Horton (Herald), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Nick Schager (Slant), AO Scott (NYT), Zack Smith (Independent Weekly), Dana Stevens (Slate), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Lindy West (Stranger), Michael Wilmington (Movie City News), Robert Wilonsky (Voice) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline).
"Prakash Jha's new Hindi film, Raajneeti, takes a dim view of the Indian political scene," writes Rachel Saltz in the NYT. "Extortion, intimidation and murder (with car bombs, wooden bats and, less creatively, guns) engage the movie's politicians far more than any platform or position. Mr Jha has said he based the dynastic family at the film's heart on characters from the epic Mahabharata, and there are also parallels to the Gandhi clan (generation Sonia). But Mr Jha's real touchstone seems to be The Godfather." More from Adam Keleman in Slant.
Jordan Galland's vampire comedy Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead is "a remarkably joyless affair that, despite its clever title, offers none of the expected pleasures of the genre: It's not sexy, it's devoid of campy thrills, and it's singularly unfunny." Andrew Schenker for Slant. More from Mike Hale (NYT) and Joshua Rothkopf (TONY).
"Julie Davis's dismal comedy Finding Bliss stars Leelee Sobieski as an award-winning NYU film school graduate who, after months of directing (traffic on studio lots), finally lands a job as a Hollywood film editor. Of porno movies." All in all, for the AV Club's Scott Tobias, the film's "a big-hearted, well-intentioned disaster." More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant), Michelle Orange (Voice) and Nick Schager (TONY). Aaron Hillis talks with Sobieski for IFC.
"Marmaduke the movie is exactly the kind of mind-numbing kiddie trash that parents dread taking their kids to," writes Simon Abrams in Slant. More from William Goss (Cinematical), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Stephen Holden (NYT), Keith Phipps (AV Club) and James Rocchi (MSN Movies).
"Hardly the disaster its studio signaled, Killers is nevertheless an object lesson in what happens when screwball is made by people who think Lubitsch is some kind of unguent," writes Ben Kenigsberg in Time Out Chicago. More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Richard Corliss (Time), Rob Humanick (Slant), Drew McWeeney (Hitfix), Jenni Miller (Cinematical), Brian Orndorf (Hollywood Bitchslap), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Scott Tobias (AV Club) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline).
"Nine years in the making, Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio's Cropsey is the type of film that can only be made slowly, as time passes and the truths of the messy past can be properly separated from myth-making and the byproducts of paranoia." Brandon Harris at Hammer to Nail: "It's a film that can't properly be situated in a genre context. It's too ambitious to be a true crime doc — its interests are much more expansive than that genre calls for. It certainly isn't a horror film in any traditional sense, although the story it tells contains terrors all too real to provide fodder for those seeking cheap thrills. Its aspects of personal history and remembrance are so lightly touched upon that it can't be taken as memoir. It is an utterly unique work in this respect, personal in the most visceral sense of the word. It's impossible to imagine that a pair of filmmakers who didn't come from this particular place — Staten Island — at this particular time — the Carter and Reagan eras — could make this film."
"Like the child-killing clown in Stephen King's It, the bogyman known as Cropsey was, to the children of Staten Island, a morphing symbol of evil," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. "Hook-handed or ax-wielding, he was said to haunt the grounds of the abandoned Willowbrook State School for the mentally disabled, pouncing on the unwary and unprotected.... Interviewing detectives and journalists, as well as families and friends of the missing children (only one body was recovered), the filmmakers struggle to untangle folklore from forensics.... Rumors — of necrophilia, Satanism and the buried remains of Mafia hits — are imparted with the solemnity of eyewitness testimony, and not a few of the residents seem unhealthily shackled to a traumatic past.... Its straggling, true-crime narrative, leaping hither and yon like a dog chasing butterflies, is not what holds the film together; the real glue is the emergence of a parallel between location and suspect, between literal dumping ground and figurative."
More from Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), Eric Hynes (TONY), Noel Murray (AV Club), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Nicolas Rapold (Voice) and Henry Stewart (L). Interviews with the directors: John Anderson (NYT) and Brandon Harris (Filmmaker). Listening. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore: "The film got us thinking about where cinema in general meets up with the modern mythology we pass around — which is why this week on the IFC News podcast, we talk about urban legends in (and of) the movies, from getting straight A's if your college roommate commits suicide to the supposed body swinging in the background of a scene of The Wizard of Oz."
"There's a question lurking at the heart of Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, and the fact that it's never properly addressed undercuts this documentary's moving look at four physicians working in Liberia and the Congo for Doctors Without Borders (a.k.a. Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF)." Nick Schager in Slant: "Though early sections suggest a forthcoming MSF advertisement, Mark N Hopkins's film is instead a quite levelheaded depiction of the logistical, emotional, and psychological battles fought by those doctors willing to sign up for six-month missions to the world's most crisis-wracked locations and provide medical services to desperate people using rudimentary supplies and primitive techniques." But "the director never sufficiently investigates the NGO's overriding mission statement and, specifically, the practicality of its efforts, meaning that the permanent value of its members' contributions is never completely clear."
"A more conventional kind of documentary might have delved deeper into the history and philosophy of the organization, one of whose founders was Bernard Kouchner, a former leftist militant who is now foreign minister in France's right-of-center government," notes the NYT's AO Scott. "But that kind of contextualization would have been antithetical both to the organization's mission and to Mr Hopkins's own interest, which is in the particular challenges faced by individual doctors."
More from Mimi Luse (L), Michelle Orange (Voice) and Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly). Larry Rohter reports on the film's making for the NYT. Anderson Tepper for Vanity Fair: "Chiara Lepora, who heads the MSF mission in Monrovia, is one of the more striking of the group, an intense, expressive Italian who throws herself headlong into staff politics and difficult rainy-season logistics, and clashes with a young Colonel Kurtz–like volunteer deep in the Liberian bush. Lepora, now a research fellow in bioethics at the National Institute of Health, in Washington, DC, spoke with us about her experiences with Doctors Without Borders on the eve of the film's opening in New York."
"From Hoop Dreams to Spellbound to worthy Hollywood biopics extolling charismatic teachers who bully or cajole their inner-city pupils to success, American cinema continually, though with varying degrees of skepticism, quizzes the persistent, elusive American dream of meritocratic upward mobility," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "In Whiz Kids, Tom Shepard, a proudly uncloseted former science nerd, follows three American teenagers as they prepare to enter the Science Talent Search, a national competition dangling a hefty $100,000 prize." For Joseph Jon Lanthier, writing for Slant, this is "a warm but ultimately unflinching celebration of nascent smarts," while Jeannette Catsoulis calls it "an unabashed celebration of geekitude, idealism and the will to win" in the NYT.
"Don't let the singular directorial credit fool you," writes Eric Hynes in Time Out New York: "Almost a dozen different filmmakers collaborated on this behind-the-scenes, vérité portrait of the 2008 Democratic National Convention. But by focusing on the coordination and management of the event, rather than on the political movement that would culminate in the Obama nomination, documentarian AJ Schnack (Kurt Cobain About a Son) deals himself a risky hand. If something akin to the volatile 1968 Chicago convention had transpired, he and his esteemed colleagues would have been well positioned to capture it. But since the show went off without a hitch, Convention plays like 11 cameras in search of drama." More from Mike Hale (NYT), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant), Benjamin Mercer (L) and Nicolas Rapold (Voice).
"Plain, plodding and relentlessly expositive, Burzynski tries to wrestle medical clarity from a snarl of science and human suffering," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. "The price paid, however, is a documentary as visually arid as it is topically fertile." More from Mimi Luse (L) and Ella Taylor (Voice). James van Maanen interviews director Eric Merola.
"Gone With the Pope is a 70s-era low-budget exploitation flick about a crew of bumbling Italian gangsters who come up with an ingenious plot to kidnap the pontiff, demanding a ransom of 50 cents from every Catholic around the globe," writes Karina Longworth in the Voice. "It's not all fun and games: Pope climaxes with a speech delivered by [director and star Duke] Mitchell, positing the film's central scheme as a deeply felt gambit to punish the Church for failing to aggressively intervene in the Holocaust. It's affecting and surprisingly convincing, and it beats Inglourious Basterds' revisionist history by three and a half decades." At New York's Landmark Sunshine tonight and tomorrow. For more New York goings on, see Steve Dollar in the Wall Street Journal.
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr rounds up the best in local repertory screenings.
IN THE UK
"Stanley Kubrick once called The Killer Inside Me, the 1952 Jim Thompson novel now the basis of a faithful adaptation by Michael Winterbottom, 'probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered.'" So begins Sukhdev Sandhu's review in the Telegraph of the film that's wandered from Sundance to Berlin and is set to see a limited release in the US on June 18 — but is opening in the UK now. Sandhu finds it to be "minor and distinctly unchilling fare."
"The film arrives on screens heralded by some box-office-boosting bad publicity, with shockwaves emanating from some who have witnessed the film's face-pulverising, hard-to-stomach bouts of violence." Wally Hammond in Time Out London: "Yet this again-atypical film from Winterbottom, the genre-swapping director of A Mighty Heart, Genova and The Road to Guantanamo, is a much more sober affair than its early, controversial press might suggest. Faithful – awfully – to Thompson's devil's-résumé-style source text and despairing worldview, it also occupies an emotional space of unnerving calm. The unfussy, if lazily expressive, cinematography (by Winterbottom regular Marcel Zyskind) of familiar 50s Americana, the unobtrusive set design of jail, courthouse and Texan home, and the relaxed, cowpoke-paced editing are all in concert with it. Together they produce a dirge-like accompaniment to a hypnotic and remarkable central performance by [Casey] Affleck."
The first half of Ryan Gilbey's review in the New Statesman concerns British directors working in America and how film noir "provides a fruitful angle from which artists of any nationality can expose American dreams as nightmares in disguise." In the New York Times, Charles McGrath considers past adaptations of Thompson's novels. And there are more reviews from Tom Birchenough (Arts Desk), Kate Muir (Times) and Anthony Quinn (Independent) as well as interviews with Winterbottom from Wally Hammond (TOL) and Benjamin Secker (Telegraph).
The violence, though, is the crux. For Laurie Penny, writing in the New Statesman, The Killer Inside Me is "murder-porn": "There is nothing edgy or iconoclastic about violence against women: it is a daily feature of the lives of ordinary people." Natasha Walter in the Guardian: "It is not the first time this year that I have found myself feeling sickened by the flayed female flesh presented by a mainstream film. When I went to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I found myself wondering why it is that our entertainment seems to rely so much on the fascinated depiction of women's scarred and bruised bodies. The assumption is now — and it seems to be correct — that audiences are happy to watch their heroines being beaten and gagged, and to stare at explicitly rendered photographs of women cut and splayed and killed."
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw counters: "Here, the movie is saying, here is the denied reality behind every seamy cop show, every sexed-up horror flick, every picturesque Jack the Ripper tourist attraction, every swooning film studies seminar on the Psycho shower scene. Here. This is what we are actually talking about. I have seen films that really are insidiously misogynistic in a way The Killer Inside Me is not, films that make light of the denigration of women, and I should also say that this film does crucially show the consequences of violence, a responsibility shirked by what I call the 'arthouse rape' genre, in which dreamy, languid movies are finally topped off with a flourish of sexual violence, just before the credits, without a smidgen of curiosity about what happens to the victim afterwards."