"With his Bud Cort haircut and morbid sensibility, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is too smart for Swansea, Wales, an industrial city mired in some seriously mid-80s Thatcherite doldrums," begins Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily. "The trouble with Oliver is that he knows he's clever, which could justify anything: surreptitiously monitoring his parents' sex life, taunting an overweight girl to make local cutie Jordana (Yasmin Paige) notice him as a real livewire, or trying to trash the house of downhill neighbor Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine) who may be having an affair with mom (Sally Hawkins). Fortunately, Submarine, Richard Ayoade's feature debut, is aware of Oliver's self-justifying nature and the ways it could warp him…. Acutely aware of the long tradition of films about disaffected young men coming to terms with themselves, Ayoade doesn't duck the precedent: instead, like Oliver…, he nods to seemingly every single precursor. There's a 400 Blows-quoting dash across the beach, a The Graduate style leap into the pool, the aforementioned Cort-do, and… allusions to Rushmore (itself indebted to Salinger, checking off the Catcher in the Rye box)."
And that works for Sam Adams, for example, writing in Time Out New York, "The balancing act between self-awareness and sentiment is a dangerous one, yet Ayoade never puts a foot wrong. Submarine may not be epic cinema, but in a modest way, it's close to perfection." But for others, like Glenn Kenny at MSN Movies, well: "Reviewing a record by the very affected, not-quite-new-wave combo the Fabulous Poodles in the late 70s, critic Robert Christgau wrote, 'You've heard of punk? Well, this is twerp.' Submarine is the twerp to whatever it is you care to call its cinematic forebears."
More from Richard Brody (New Yorker), Ryan Brown (Ioncinema, 2.5/5), Christopher Campbell (Spout), Jesse Cataldo (Slant, 3/4), Halim Cillov (Cinespect), Richard Corliss (Time), David Denby (New Yorker), Cory Everett (Playlist, B+), Craig Kennedy (3/5), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 7/10), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, A-), AO Scott (New York Times), Dana Stevens (Slate) and Justin Stewart (L). Earlier: Reviews from Toronto and Sundance. Interviews with Ayoade: Robert Abele (Los Angeles Times), Christopher Bell (Playlist), Eric Hynes (Voice), Bryce J Renninger (indieWIRE) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline). Mike Ryan interviews Hawkins for Vulture and indieWIRE's Peter Knegt gets a few words with Roberts. Jonah Weiner has a general backgrounder in the NYT and, for the Paris Review, Tom Bunstead talks with Joe Dunthorne, who wrote the novel the film's based on.
"There won't be a dry cheek in the house after sitting through Mike Mills's tearjerker Beginners, but that's only because of all the cuteness that practically drips off the screen," writes Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky. "In fact, you might want to wear a trenchcoat to this pornographically precious romcom masquerading as a poignant working-out of daddy issues. Mills conceived of his second feature, following the oddly hyped but frivolous yawp of teen angst Thumbsucker, as a tribute to his father. After his wife's death, the seventy-something man had admitted his homosexuality to his son, much to the latter's immense surprise, before dying himself a few years later. To convey this deeply personal tale onscreen, Mills casts eminently elegant Christopher Plummer as pops, cuddly Ewan McGregor as himself, and Inglourious Basterds' it-girl Mélanie Laurent as his beautiful French fling, and calls it a day. There's no denying the chops and attractiveness of this cast, but perhaps that seamless professionalism and charm is the problem: once translated to film, this potentially intriguing age-reversed coming-out scenario becomes the stuff of movie-movie-land."
"Beginners might sound insufferable, but it isn't — or at least not completely," argues Rob Nelson in the Voice. "Mills, like Oliver, favors changing the subject when things get too heavy, the director cutting to another goofy photo montage or graffiti spree to defend against the kind of melodrama that [wife Miranda] July, for example, allows more freely in Me and You and Everyone We Know. It's actually this stereotypically male stoicism of the filmmaker, more than his tale of a hip oldster enjoying a much-younger boyfriend (Goran Visnjic) en route to the cemetery, that gives Beginners whatever poignancy it has. Certainly the movie, which is about emotional evasion as much as it is a symptom of it, represents a progression for Mills not only from the merely juvenile Thumbsucker, but from the early short films — such as Paperboys and Deformer — that found the former skate punk fixating almost creepily on boys and their toys. Beginners may culminate in the grown-up hugs and tears that no doubt encouraged Focus Features to buy it in Toronto last fall, but it's strongest as the story of an artist who, in his own way, has only begun to come out."
More from Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com, 3/5), Diego Costa (Slant, 4/4), Manohla Dargis (NYT), David Edelstein (New York), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Mary Pols (Time), Nicolas Rapold (L), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B+), Keith Uhlich (TONY, 4/5) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 8.5/10). Earlier: Reviews from Toronto. Interviews with Mills: Karina Longworth (Voice), Nowness and Matt Singer (IFC). Time Out New York's David Fear meets Mills and McGregor. David Edelstein talks with Plummer for New York. Willa Paskin interviews Laurent for Vulture. And Dennis Lim has a backgrounder in the NYT.
"Grief has become a popular cultural subject," writes Paul Schrodt in Slant, "whether in Joyce Carol Oates's memoir of her late husband or Meghan O'Rourke's mourning of her mother. But Beautiful Boy adds an admittedly lurid, ripped-from-the-headlines dimension to this genre: Kate (Maria Bello) and Bill Carroll (Michael Sheen) mourn a son who's committed a college shooting, killing himself and several of his classmates. Mercifully, though, this is not a low-rent teen-issue drama in the style of David Schwimmer's Trust. With one notable third-act exception, none of the real drama transpires over computer screens or text messages. Kate and Bill learn about the shooting as we expect they might: from glimpsed snatches of local-news coverage, a police officer's fateful knock on the front door. All of it takes place in the very early part of the film, when we've barely gotten to know the Carrolls' son, Sam (Kyle Gallner), and the lack of firsthand information, for them and for us, leaves the proceedings feeling uniquely devoid of air."
For Stephen Saito, writing at IFC, "one of the most interesting aspects of Michael Armbruster and Shawn Ku's script is that the cause of the family's collective unhappiness isn't dwelled upon… Owing a debt to the likes of Paul Greengrass, the camera hides behind in corners, from the backseats of cars or over the shoulders of its characters, catching moments, rather than seeking them out, an approach that makes Bill weeping in the shower or Kate's confusion at hearing a description of her son on television feel tastefully observed rather than mawkishly manipulative. The work of cinematographer Michael Fimognari, who also did an impressive job with the low-budget frat hazing thriller Brotherhood, unexpectedly leads to the film's bravura moment — an unmediated fight in a hotel room between the two, who are forced into seclusion by the media attention — which is unedited and unhinged from any stationary position, as if it's finally out in the open along with the thoughts of the parents who cling onto memories of who they remember they once were while no longer recognizing the person in front of them."
More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Mark Holcomb (Voice), Stephen Holden (NYT), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 8/10), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, A-) and James van Maanen. Brandon Harris interviews Ku for Filmmaker and ST VanAirsdale talks with Sheen for Movieline.
"After a close call with franchise death (diagnosis: anemia), the X-Men film series has bounced back to life with its fifth installment, rescued with a straight injection of pop," writes the NYT's Manohla Dargis. "Directed by Matthew Vaughn, X-Men: First Class reaches back to the early 1960s for an origin story of mutants, mad men and mods that takes some of its cues from James Bond and more than a few costumes from Austin Powers. Like Mad Men, this new X-Men indulges in period nostalgia as it gazes into the future, using the backdrop of the cold war (and its turtlenecks) to explore how the past informs the present (while also blowing stuff up)."
Jonathan Kiefer in the Faster Times: "X-Men: First Class has some artificial flavors — corn, cheese, Kevin Bacon bits — but also some natural advantages in James McAvoy as the learned telepath Xavier, later Professor X, and Michael Fassbender as his tormented friend Erik Lehnsherr, later Magneto. Jennifer Lawrence, as the reluctant shapeshifter Raven, later Mystique, tags along for comely companionship and cliché mitigation. It's fun to see a randy Xavier hitting on pre-mod Oxford birds, working his innate nobility and genius gene theory, while Lehnsherr extracts information and dental fillings in order to go suavely about hunting down hidden Nazis. And it would be fine to spend the whole movie with just these two wily Brits, each well adapted to the Ian Fleming-style espionage thriller already under way and presided over by Rose Byrne's CIA agent, who sets a tone early on by stripping down to lingerie in her very first scene."
"The climax is the biggest letdown," finds New York's David Edelstein, "a giant hash of crosscutting and unremarkable (in an era in which we've seen everything) CGI, but it does throw a whole new light on the Cuban Missile Crisis. The fact is, it's a lot less disturbing to believe that the US and Soviet Union came this close to nuking each other out of existence because of unseen psychotic mutants than by humans whom Christopher Hitchens has rightly called 'high-risk narcissists.'"
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 3/5), Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 3/4), Jaime N Christley (Slant, 1.5/4), Richard Corliss (Time), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2.5/4), Robert Horton (Herald), David Jenkins (Time Out London, 3/5), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 3/5), Craig D Lindsey (Nashville Scene), Peter Martin (Twitch), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, B), Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph), Dana Stevens (Slate), Adam Sweeting (Arts Desk), Drew Taylor (Playlist), Scott Tobias (NPR), Scott Weinberg (Twitch), Jonathan Williams (Little White Lies) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7/10). John Hiscock interviews Vaughn for the Telegraph, where Georgia Dehn talks with Lawrence, and Logan Hill meets McAvoy for New York.
Stephen Holden in the NYT on Don McGlynn's documentary history of gospel music, Rejoice and Shout: "Your religion or lack of one doesn’t matter. At some point while watching the film, you may feel that music is God, or if not, a close approximation of divinity." The New York Press's Armond White is pretty ecstatic, too. Andrew Schenker in Slant and Noel Murray at the AV Club, less so: 2/4 and C+, respectively. Nick Pinkerton in the Voice: "The best bits — the powerful instrument called Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, for example — more than speak for themselves." More from Ryan Wells (Cinespect).
"A grueling barrage of geologic plunder, union busting, sociopathic official indifference (hey, why not put a toxic-sludge lake next to an elementary school?), and worse, this environmental exposé confirms every awful suspicion ever raised about the coal industry." Mark Holcomb in the Voice: "Trouble is, the news is so bad and so plentiful that The Last Mountain may have you looking for the nearest exit (or a razor blade) instead of a way to register your outrage." More from Sam Adams (AV Club, C-), Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Sander Hicks (Cinespect), Stephen Saito (IFC) and Andrew Schenker (Slant, 2.5/4).
"Notorious Welsh drug smuggler Howard Marks secured his legend with the 1996 autobiography Mr Nice," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Writer-director Bernard Rose adapts Mr Nice with Rhys Ifans starring as Marks… There are a number of different models for this kind of movie: the kinetic approach of Goodfellas, the detailed dissection of Carlos, the theatrical flourish of Bronson, and so on. Rose tries a little of everything with Mr Nice, but has difficulty weaving it all into something cohesive and coherent." More from D Indalecio Guzman (Cinespect), Stephen Holden (NYT), Ben Mercer (Voice) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 8/10). Lorraine Cwelich talks with Ifans for Interview.
"As a period evocation, Christina Yao's ambitious feature debut Empire of Silver is flawless, richly and authentically detailed and superbly photographed," writes Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times. "But her adaptation of The Silver Valley, a three-volume book by Cheng Yi, who also worked with Yao on the screenplay, makes for unwieldy melodrama, rather than the enthralling epic it might have been." More from Michael Atkinson (Voice), Joe Bendel, Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT) and Nick Schager (Slant, 1.5/4).
IN OTHER NEWS
"Super 8, JJ Abrams's hommage to the early work of Steven Spielberg, is a cunning and largely effective piece of creative transubstantiation — an attempt to effect a Vulcan mind meld with the great dauphin prince of popular cinema." Yes, the first reviews are appearing and that's the beginning of Tom Shone's; his final grade: B.
Frank Bruni has a longish profile of Abrams in the NYT Magazine, while, like the LAT's Geoff Boucher, Time's Richard Corliss talks with both Abrams and Spielberg, and he notes along the way: "Look closely and you'll see that Super 8 is a medley of tropes from the films of Spielberg's early prime. They're all here: Duel (an unseen, car-wrecking force), The Sugarland Express (a blonde driving a hot car), Jaws (the town sheriff tracking a monster), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (ordinary folks unearthing a military secret), 1941 (people panicking on news of an invasion), Poltergeist (an underground menace that steals people), The Goonies (kids on a dangerous mission) and especially E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (an alien event seen through children's eyes, plus a few other echoes we won't mention). The films are summoned not as a series of gag references but as an evocation — in a grainier, more urgent style — of the old Spielbergian nexus of childhood fear and wonder."
Eric Lavallee is looking much further ahead than next week at Ioncinema, where he's got notes on what's known so far about nine projects in the works, including Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master.