Entries on some of the noisier openings of the week - Joel and Ethan Coen's A Serious Man, Ricky Gervais's The Invention of Lying, Zombieland and Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story, now in the booster phase of its release - have been updated through today. Odd, isn't it, how all of them might be described as dark comedies.
"Afterschool, the almost frighteningly accomplished first feature made by Antonio Campos when he was 24, is high school as horror show," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The premise isn't novel, but the movie, which was featured in the 2008 New York Film Festival, gives teenage sex and death a disquieting high art sheen." More from Sam Adams (IFC), Neil Genzlinger (NYT), Brandon Harris (Hammer to Nail), Anthony Kaufman, Nicolas Rapold (Time Out New York), Michael Joshua Rowin (Reverse Shot), Scott Tobias (AV Club) and James van Maanen. For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Campos "about the personal experiences that fueled the making of Afterschool, secretly recording people's conversations to plunder for material, and his childhood wish to be a ghostbuster."
"Like probably a zillion other school kids, 'My country tears of thee' was the way I understood the first line of 'America,'" New York Times art critic Holland Carter wrote last week. "Maybe that's the way the Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank heard it too when he came to the United States from Europe in 1947, at 22, with English his second, third or fourth language. Sadness seems to trickle through the 83 photographs in his classic 1959 book, The Americans, his disturbed and mournful song-of-the-road portrait of a new homeland and the subject of a 50th-anniversary exhibition now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art."
Bill Weber in Slant: "In An American Journey, journalist and documentarian Philippe Séclier retraces Frank's path five decades later - like some of the scholarly interviewees, he's only an aural presence on the soundtrack - but the resulting hour-long DV valentine shifts uneasily from meditation to history to idle travelogue." More from Mike Hale (NYT), Noel Murray (AV Club), Katie Rolnick (Tiny Mix Tapes), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Ronnie Scheib (Variety) and James van Maanen. At New York's Film Forum through Tuesday. See also Jill Krementz's photo journal.
In Chelsea on the Rocks, Abel Ferrara "captures the kooky melancholia of the hotel's past and present, largely through tone and an empathetic, simpatico ear," writes Andrew Hultkrans for Artforum. "At its core, the film is really more about the death of old New York than about the Chelsea itself." More from Sam Adams (AV Club), Stephen Holden (NYT), Jeremiah Kipp (Slant), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Justin Stewart (L), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and James van Maanen.
"Far more deserving of the hoopla Mike Figgis received for his single-take, multicamera drama Timecode (2000), Finnish visual artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila's experimental narrative truly pushes forward the possibilities of split-screen cinema," writes Aaron Hillis in Time Out New York. "Inspired by a real-life incident during the 50s in which two Algerian boys stabbed their young French playmate, [Where Is Where?] presents a cryptically lyrical investigation of bridges - between history and modernity, Western and Arab cultures, home and identity." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT) and Andrew Schenker (Slant). At MoMA through Wednesday.
"The directorial debut of star Drew Barrymore, Whip It is completely conventional," concedes James Rocchi at the Red Blog, "but it's also completely winning, a retro-ish story of dreams and self-reliance that evokes everything from Flashdance to Footloose as Ellen Page discovers and enters the world of hipster Roller Derby in Austin Texas." More from Sean Axmaker, Peter Brunette (Hollywood Reporter), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Tim Grierson (Screen), Paul Matwychuk, Rob Nelson (Variety), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Mary Pols (Time), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), AO Scott (NYT), Ryan Stewart (Slant), Benjamin Strong (L), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Robert Wilonsky (Voice) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
Interviews with Barrymore: Rachel Abramovitz (Los Angeles Times), Sam Adams (AV Club) and Michael Almereyda (NYT); Richard Whittaker talks with Barrymore and screenwriter Shauna Cross for the Austin Chronicle; Viewing: David Poland talks with Page, Cross, Alia Shawkat and Juliette Lewis.
"More Than a Game tells one of those 'you can't make this stuff up' true stories for which documentarians live," writes Matthew Connelly in Slant. "Director Kristopher Belman chronicles seven years in the lives of five players on an Akron, Ohio high school basketball team, from their early middle-school games to the national high school championship. That one of the players happened to be current NBA superstar LeBron James adds but another level of interest to a real-life story that is not only populated by memorable personalities and inspiring anecdotes, but which neatly conforms to the classic three-act story structure of unexpected success followed by hubristic downfall followed by triumphant return." More from Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Nick Schager (TONY), AO Scott (NYT) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).
Michelle Orange in the Voice: "The full spectrum of the volunteer impulse - from pure self-sacrifice to dubious self-congratulation - is on display in After the Storm, a documentary about three Broadway swells who visit post-Katrina New Orleans to help some local high-schoolers put on a show." At MoMA starting Monday.
"The Horse Boy may excuse itself as a 'raising awareness' tract on autism, but the exotic travelogue isn't a practicable care option for most cases, and it certainly isn't worthy cinema," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Pamela Cohn (Hammer to Nail), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly) and Andrew Schenker (Slant).
"Due to the importance of witnessing the Holocaust's aftermath, especially in light of its vocal denial on the other side of the globe, is it possible to produce a poor but factual documentary about the event?" asks Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant. "It's a question worth asking one's self after seeing As Seen Through These Eyes, director Hilary Helstein's video project concerning the perseverance of artists and the clandestine creation of music, paintings, and sketches within concentration camps." More from Stephen Holden (NYT) and Michelle Orange (Voice).
"Intimate Enemies is a movie you've seen before, when it was set on the Apache reservation or in the Vietnamese jungle," writes Mike Hale in the NYT. "This time the naïve lieutenant, the jaded sergeant, the suicidal mission with no purpose - all the components of the restless-natives combat movie - are applied to the war in Algeria in the late 1950s." More from Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Nick Schager (Slant) and James van Maanen.
"It takes nerve to award Bai Ling a singing role in a serious drama, but nerve may be the one thing A Beautiful Life does not lack," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. "Set among the mean streets and meaner people of downtown Los Angeles, this laughably clichéd dive into sexual masochism and hardscrabble survival replaces story with outline and characters with place holders. No wonder Ms Ling's breasts are the most animated objects on screen." More from Walter Addiego (San Francisco Chronicle), Melissa Anderson (Voice) and Nick Schager (Slant).