Big day. The two best-reviewed films opening in theaters this weekend center on relationships between human beings and beings that aren't. Quentin Tarantino carries on making noise and there's a new issue of Sight & Sound up. We'd better get on with it...
"District 9 [site] takes a rather visionary approach to our anxious dreams of extraterrestrial first contact, picking up cues from a lot of great science fiction prose, the sort that rarely gets made into movies," writes Josef Braun in Vue Weekly. "By rendering the aliens as ostracized refugees in South Africa the film opens the doors wide to invite all manner of metaphorical interpretation, grounding its narrative in the landscape of apartheid and having human characters of all racial backgrounds disparage their visitors with reactionary, colonialist rhetoric, their intolerance made ostensibly acceptable by the humanoid yet crustacean-like aliens' all too evident Otherness. But this remarkable feature debut from South African-Canadian filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, made under the auspices of producer Peter Jackson, also functions quite nicely as engrossing comic book stuff. In fact, the deeper it ventures into pulp territory the better it gets."
More from John Anderson (Washington Post), Sean Axmaker, Todd Brown (Showcase), Ty Burr (Boston Globe) Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Mike D'Angelo (IFC), Richard Corliss (Time), Matt Dentler, Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Daniel Engber (Slate), Scott Foundas (Voice), Robert Horton (Herald), Eric Kohn (Moving Pictures), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Christopher Orr (New Republic), James Rocchi (MSN), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Nick Schager (Slant), AO Scott (New York Times), Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).
Interviews with Blomkamp: Seth Abramovitch (Movieline), Alex Billington (FirstShowing), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon) and Tasha Robinson (AV Club). Online listening tip. AV Talk. Online viewing tip. A playlist of Blomkamp's earlier work.
"The hyperbole well tends to run dry when talking about Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese master animator whose films such as Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro feature an unbeatable mixture of noncloying messages, towering action set pieces, and, above all, gentle humanism." Andrew Wright in the Stranger: "Ponyo [site], Miyazaki's first feature-length movie since 2004's Howl's Moving Castle, is, it must be said, several notches below his aforementioned masterworks, which makes it only, oh, super-duper wonderful. A loose retelling of The Little Mermaid, it makes big magic, seemingly effortlessly."
More from Mike D'Angelo (IFC), Manohla Dargis (NYT), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Scott Foundas (Voice), Aaron Hillis (TONY), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Nicolas Rapold (L), Andrew Schenker (Slant), Chris Stangl, Dana Stevens (Slate) and Kenneth Turan (LAT).
Introducing Miyazaki to the uninitiated are Shawn Levy (Oregonian) and Nick Schager (TONY). Interviews with Miyazaki: Drew McWeeny (Hitfix) and John Wheeler (LA Weekly). And then there's Simon Abrams's clip-laced piece for the L Magazine, "Can Anime Teach You How to Be a Grown-Up?"
Two from Germany: "Cloud 9, a tender, minimalist drama from the German director Andreas Dresen, is a whistling-past-the-graveyard tale of two elderly Berliners taking a last chance at love," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. "It could also be about much more, depending on how contemplative your mood and how much personal baggage you bring to the theater." More from Edward Champion, Stephen Garrett (TONY), Noel Murray (AV Club), Nicolas Rapold (Voice), Andrew Schenker (Slant), Stephen Snart (L) and James van Maanen.
Ricky D'Ambrose in the L Magazine: "By all accounts, My Führer is a tasteless film, a grotesque model of a deadened, contemporary sensibility, grounded in irony and steeped in a sense of pastlessness that turns history into theatre." More from David Fear (TONY), Stephen Holden (NYT), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant), Nick Pinkterton (Voice) and James van Maanen.
Two docs: "Both a patchwork history of the American environmental movement and an unhysterical call to consciousness, Earth Days charts the growing awareness of the finite nature of global resources and the impassioned efforts to combat unsustainable development during the late 60s as well as the forces that helped to undo much of the movement's progress during the Reaganite 80s." That's Andrew Schenker in Slant; more from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Noel Murray (AV Club), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon) and S James Snyder (TONY). And Nick Dawson talks with director Robert Stone for Filmmaker.
"A fan's love letter to the art of the six-string, Davis Guggenheim's documentary It Might Get Loud [site] convenes a summit of guitar gods from three generations: Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, U2's The Edge, and The White Stripes' Jack White." Sam Adams at the AV Club: "The resulting jam session ought to be a music geek's wet dream, but there isn't enough common ground to produce more than a few flashes of inspiration." More from David Goldman (L), Jeremiah Kipp (Slant), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), AO Scott (NYT), Scott Tobias (NPR), ST VanAirsdale (Movieline), Robert Wilonsky (Voice) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). For Vanity Fair, Alan Light talks with all three guitar heroes.
"Based on short stories by Hungarian poet Lajos Parti Nagy, György Pálfi's Taxidermia [site] is a sweeping absurdist fantasy that spans three generations and half a century," writes Martin Tsai in the Critic's Notebook, where he finds it "nauseatingly grotesque and sickly humorous. Mr Pálfi's grandiose vision and technical bravado are nothing short of mesmerizing, yet there are also plenty of tender moments amid the go-for-broke follies. Most importantly, the film is a historical allegory that depicts a people torn by different political regimes." More from Edward Champion, Ed Gonzalez (Voice), Stephen Holden (NYT), Eric Hynes (indieWIRE), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Andrew Schenker (L), Elbert Ventura (Reverse Shot) and Bill Weber (Slant).
"On publication in 2003, Audrey Niffenegger's fantasy romance The Time Traveler's Wife became a US bestselling smash and global book club swoon," writes Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian, "and travelling forward in time to 2009, it now becomes an outrageously daft, but occasionally entertaining Hollywood movie, and I have to admit the emphasis on imagination and adventure rather than hankie-wringing weepiness is a relief." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Edward Champion, Manohla Dargis (NYT), David Fear (TONY), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Anthony Quinn (Independent), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph), Nick Schager (Slant) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). At Slate, physicist Dave Goldberg notes that the book and movie tell "the story of Henry DeTamble, a man with a rare genetic disorder that causes him to skip around in time while his long-suffering wife, Clare, waits for him at home. The premise is no more or less plausible than that of, say, Back to the Future, in which a tricked-out DeLorean must reach 88 mph to jump into the past. But The Time Traveler's Wife follows through on its premise in a realistic way."
"With Spread, [David] Mackenzie follows the London-to-LA flight path of many British directors before him, and focuses his withering Scottish gaze on the soulless sexuality of the Southern California rich and wannabe-rich." Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: "Along with such obvious reference points as Shampoo and American Gigolo, the results suggest a mixture of early Paul Verhoeven and Tony Richardson's legendary film version of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One. So, yeah, Spread is too clever by half to be an actual hit, while also lacking snob appeal. Too bad about that." More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Diego Costa (Slant) and Stephen Holden (NYT).
S James Snyder in Time Out New York on Captain Abu Raed: "Eager, earnest and ultimately a little too easy on the conscience, Amin Matalqa's Jordanian melodrama is social commentary with the gloss of classical Italian drama." More from Matthew Connelly (Slant), FX Feeney (Voice) and Neil Genzlinger (NYT).
"Bandslam, the new battle-of-the-bands soap opera from director and co-writer Todd Graff, understands why rock endures and why it changes, and how it offers every generation the chance for reinvention and rebirth," writes James Rocchi for MSN. More from Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Karina Longworth (TONY), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), Nicolas Rapold (Voice) and Andy Webster (NYT).
"A muddled, logic-starved provocation, Grace avoids smugness by refusing to play its body horror for shits and giggles, but its resonance is purely atmospheric," writes Ed Gonzalez in the Voice. More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Bryant Frazer, Mike Hale (NYT) and Benjamin Sutton (L).
And then there's The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard. "You keep waiting for the whole thing to collapse, but that's also part of the fun," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. More from Adam Keleman (Slant), Keith Phipps (AV Club) and Justin Stewart (L).
"Is Tarantino good for the Jews?" asks Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, primarily in response to Jeffrey Goldberg's piece on Inglourious Basterds in this month's Atlantic: "Early in his article, Goldberg waxes euphoric over Tarantino's 'emotionally uncomplicated, physically threatening, non-morally-anguished Jews dealing out spaghetti-Western justice to their would-be exterminators.' But by the time he's finished, Goldberg has backed away from this exercise in 'kosher porn,' to use Eli Roth's resonant phrase, and quotes Hollywood scholar Neal Gabler to ask why Tarantino 'conventionalizes Jews, puts them in the same revenge motif as everyone else.'" But O'Hehir suspects that "Tarantino has no serious opinions or convictions whatever regarding Nazis or Jews or the Holocaust."
Glenn Kenny, though, is tired of the "scolders," who always seem to be arguing that "Quentin Tarantino could be a genuinely great filmmaker if only he could get over his puerile, annoying insistence on making Quentin Tarantino movies." For Glenn, Basterds is "one of the most balls-out insane, and insanely exhilarating, films that I've seen in many a year, and cannot wait to see again, maybe three or four more times before it hits DVD."
Meantime, Tarantino keeps talking. To Kevin Maher, for example, in the London Times, and to Ryan Gilbey in the new issue of Sight & Sound - in which Mark Cousins introduces a special package on 50 visionary filmmakers, "The Mad, the Bad and the Dangerous." And there are four reviews online: Lisa Mullen on Afterschool, Tim Lucas on Woodstock, Guy Westwell on The Hurt Locker and Guido Bonsaver on Mid-August Lunch - which, as Peter Knegt reports for indieWIRE, has just been picked up by Zeitgeist Films.
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