Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, Kevin Kline and Paul Dano, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd. None of them are in Brett Haley's The New Year, but they are in multiplexes across the country, where you'd think they'd be getting critics at least somewhat enthusiastic about this week's offerings — but that's not quite happening, which is why we'll start the Friday roundup this week with local scenes.
Beginning, of course, with New York. Its new theater, the reRun Gastropub, with its "60 reclaimed car seats, a full bar and gourmet snack counter, and a twelve foot screen." Karina Longworth in the Voice: "A slow-building stunner of a character study, The New Year stars Trieste Kelly Dunn as Sunny, a budding writer who returned to her working-class hometown of Pensacola to take care of her sick academic father, and got stuck."
"She's bored out of her mind," notes Andy Webster in the New York Times. "But the audience is not. Out of raw materials — convincing 20-something dialogue; deft montages of night life, bowling, parties, the beachside setting — the director-screenwriter Brett Haley (with another screenwriter, Elizabeth Kennedy) has built an encouraging feature debut."
Dunn's performance is "a riff on the aches of nascent adulthood that's intriguingly distinct from her more mercurial role in Cold Weather," notes Joseph Lon Lanthier in Slant. "If these two roles don't directly lead to meatier parts in bigger productions, then aspiring actors everywhere might as well quit and take a job at their local bowling alley, because this is as good as calling cards get," writes Michael Tully in Hammer to Nail. Introducing his interview with Haley for Filmmaker, Brandon Harris suggests that Dunn's work "harkens back to past breakthroughs by girl next door types mired with dead end circumstances amidst sunny, coastal locales: think Ashley Judd in Ruby in Paradise or Lauren Ambrose in Swimming."
The Romantic Gaze of William Lubtchansky is a three-film series running tonight and tomorrow at the 92nd Street Y. The New Yorker's Richard Brody revisits Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers (2005) in which the "great William Lubtchansky gives his grainy black-and-white images the feel of cold stone." The other two films are Jacques Rivette's Duelle (1976) and Le Pont du Nord (1981) and, as I hope you've seen, Miriam Bale has a very fine piece in these pages on Alain Resnais's influence on Rivette.
To switch gears, Russellmania! "For the (now-eightysomething) filmmaker in his prime, art and history were carnival grounds for exhilarating spectacle and Romantic mania," writes Nicolas Rapold in his overview for the Voice. "A nine-film series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center showcases the British director during his most brightly blazing streak, both heady highs and interchangeable lows."
Russell himself will be present for one screening each night of the series, running through August 5. Tonight: "1971's oft-banned The Devils is an ugly, in-your-face Aldous Huxley adaptation about a cult of witchy nuns in Loudon, in 17th century France," writes Justin Stewart in the L Magazine. "A scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue) allies with repressed, hunchbacked Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) to play up the nunnery's satanic possession. It's a ploy meant to grab power from the popular priest Urban Grandier ([Oliver Reed]), an openly oversexed proto-hippie avatar of free love. Russell thinks he's making a political point against hysteria and repression, but it's easy not to notice that while watching witchhunter Michael Gothard, with anachronistic rocker hair and tinted John Sebastian frames, using a giant syringe to perform a forceful enema on screaming acting royalty Redgrave."
More from Simon Abrams and Armond White in the New York Press. Time Out New York's David Fear gets a few words with Russell. And Film Comment is running Gene D Phillips's interview for the Fall 1970 issue as well as Stephen Farber's "Russellmania" from the November/December 1975 issue. Listening (32'05"). Ed Champion's interview with Russell: "So I hit him over the head with his own review. Which happened to be a tissue of lies from start to finish."
Meantime, to pick up where this entry left off a couple of weeks ago, Film Forum's Charlie Chaplin retrospective rolls on through August 5. The Guardian's Danny Leigh explains how and why he's finally come around to an appreciation of "Kennington Road's favourite son." Here's David Phelps in the L Magazine: "The Little Tramp, with his benighted cuteness, his walrus hob-wobble and hand-me-down dinner suit, is designed as image of gentleman-clown, a traditional comic hero betraying at each pretentious step for class acceptance its belabored edicts, vainglorious rites, and his own rank instincts spurring the charade. The same could be said for Harold Lloyd's blind, ingratiating optimist, Laurel and Hardy's self-immolating bourgeoisie, Buster Keaton's dutiful architect of his own world. Chaplin's weird, endearing power is probably his kid-like mix of innocence and manipulation, his ease with exploiting the exploiters around him only because at the end of the day, unlike a Victorian striver and despite all probability, he doesn't want to be anyone but himself with the people he loves — the theme runs through Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight."
Speaking of Verdoux, Tom McCormack, calling James Agee and André Bazin as witnesses, argues the case for the defense at Moving Image Source. And the New Yorker's Richard Brody looks ahead to Monday's screening of A King in New York.
ON THE WEST COAST
The American Cinematheque's Platinum Career: A Tribute to Kim Novak is "devoted to restored titles from Sony's soon-to-be-released Kim Novak Film Collection DVD box set," notes Michael Joshua Rowin in the LA Weekly. "They're mostly turkeys but also odd reflections on the fetishistic allure of Novak so perfectly exploited by Vertigo. Ridiculously overwrought breakthrough Picnic (1955) is interesting only for Novak's small-town beauty pageant queen confusedly struggling against the desires she provokes in everyone around her, while in forgettable musical Pal Joey (1957) she refuses to play the 'wowza' bombshell — her prickly sensitivity disarms even a smarmy Sinatra. And though it paired her again with Stewart, romantic witch comedy Bell, Book and Candle (1958) would have been deadly dull had Novak's performance not suggested an erotic charge far more feral than the film's defanged black magic."
Interviews with Novak, now 77: Susan King in the Los Angeles Times and Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune.
Back to LA Weekly. "No screening series in Los Angeles this year is poised to have as direct an impact on the Oscar race as DocuWeeks," argues Karina Longworth.
The Genius of Insanity: Five Films From João César Monteiro opens tonight at Seattle's Northwest Film Forum with Recollections of the Yellow House. Charles Mudede in the Stranger: "His life was nowhere as long as Oliveira's (he only made it to his mid-60s), but his films are far more imaginative and philosophical — Oliveira is a closed moralist; Monteiro is completely open to the strange forces of the universe."
For an excellent roundup of what's happening between and beyond the coasts, turn to Criterion's Current.
IN THE UK
"Joann Sfar's movie-portrait of French musical legend Serge Gainsbourg, taken from his own graphic novel, is as spiky, tricky and arresting as its subject," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "The movie arrives here flavoured with an awful sadness. Lucy Gordon gives a great performance as Gainsbourg's lover Jane Birkin — with whom he ecorded the steamy 'Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus' — and who is the mother of Charlotte Gainsbourg. Gordon killed herself shortly before the film's release in France."
"Despite sharing crucial DNA, [Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)] makes quite a song and dance about differentiating itself from biopics gone by," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "Fortunately, it's a song and dance worth watching.... What the picture sometimes lacks is the rusty hangover feeling of Gainsbourg's best recordings; in the spick-and-span dives where he drinks and performs in the film, you catch a whiff of Nicorette rather than nicotine. At least the upside of Sfar's expressionistic style, in which an intimate bedroom scene can be lit like a nightclub striptease, is that it saves the film from becoming an inventory of songs composed, women seduced and stubble cultivated."
More from Trevor Johnston (Time Out London), Anthony Quinn (Independent, where Shane Danielson examines "the cult of Gainsbourg") and Tim Robey (Telegraph, where Lucy Davies re-sketches the life). And then there's this roundup: "3:AM Cult Hero: Serge Gainsbourg."
"Electro, prog rock, folk, hypnagogic psych-pop: Welsh band Super Furry Animals have never been short of ideas or ambition, restlessly swerving and shuttling around in an entertaining musical universe of their own devising for more than 15 years." Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph: "It makes sense that their lead singer, Gruff Rhys, has now turned his attention to film: Separado!, directed by Dylan Goch, is very much a cinematic analogue to the Furries' music — being a playful and idiosyncratic mash-up of science fiction, road movie and cultural history that celebrates the visions and energies of countless artists, dissenters and activists who have sought, in their different ways, to Fight the Power."
More from David Jenkins (Time Out London) and Steve Rose (Guardian). For more on what's in UK theaters this week, see Time Out London's roundup.
"Teruo Ishii was not called the King of Cult for nothing," writes Mark Schilling in the Japan Times. "The ero-guro (erotic and grotesque) films he directed in the late 1960s and early 70s not only pushed contemporary boundaries of the permissible, from group nudity to graphic depictions of deviant sex, but paved the way for the directorial outlaws of later decades, from Shinya Tsukamoto to Takashi Miike.... Now porn director and Ishii intimate Dirty Kudo has made a documentary, Ishii Teruo: Eiga Tamashi (Teruo Ishii: The Soul of Film), to accompany a 30-film Ishii retrospective and various Ishii-related events in August." 2.5 out of 5 stars.
BACK IN THE STATES
"One can practically hear the Oscar telecast's orchestral music cuing up at the close of Robert Duvall's every scene in Get Low, what with his role — as a mysterious hermit in 1930s Tennessee who plans to stage his own funeral before his death — the type that's been designed, down to its measured beats of dialogue, to garner year-end accolades." Nick Schager in Slant: "Aaron Schneider's debut is a down-home Americana fable executed with restraint and decorum, from its patient rhythms and lovely CinemaScope cinematography to its folksy score of fiddles and violins. Quiet and precise, it's a character drama that treats modesty as a virtue in and of itself."
"[I]t's a fleetingly satisfying sort of sentimentality that would have curled the lips of purists like William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor," writes Ella Taylor for NPR. "That said, the calculated minimalism of Duvall and [Bill] Murray — the way this odd couple dances straight-faced along the line between drama and black comedy — restores to Get Low its bracing tone of fierce obstinacy."
More from Josef Braun, Ed Champion, Leah Churner (Reverse Shot), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Sheri Linden (LAT), Noel Murray (AV Club), Mary Pols (Time), AO Scott (NYT), Henry Stewart (L), Keith Uhlich (TONY), Armond White (NYP), Chuck Wilson (Voice) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Interviews with Duvall: Joe Leydon (Cowboys & Indians), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Anne Thompson (video), ST VanAirsdale (Movieline), Jonah Weiner (NYT) and Jada Yuan (New York, with Sissy Spacek, too). Mina Hochberg talks with Murray for Vulture. And PopMatters' first "Performer Spotlight" shines on Spacek.
"I'm tempted to describe The Extra Man as an intriguing little movie that doesn't totally work," begins Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, "but doesn't that rather patronizing dismissal assume that I understand what it's trying to do? If you've seen writing-directing duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's other films, including American Splendor and The Nanny Diaries, you'll already know that they favor a brand of astringent, character-based comedy that isn't easy to describe and, for good or ill, isn't quite like anything else.... Given that The Extra Man could be described as a movie about a wannabe transvestite [Paul Dano] who moves in with an aging gigolo [Kevin Kline], it's relentlessly unwacky and even quietly subversive. There are lots of directions this story could go — a coming-out story, a gay love affair, a hetero romantic comedy, a writerly coming-of-age yarn, a Cage aux Folles-style transgender farce — and Berman and Pulcini feint in all those directions before settling on a cast of oddballs (also including John C Reilly speaking in falsetto, Marian Seldes as a nonagenarian dowager, and Katie Holmes in a nothing ingénue role) and a comedy of manners so subtle it almost isn't there at all. You'll either find The Extra Man utterly charming or thoroughly mystifying, but either way Kevin Kline, playing a community-theater version of himself, with all the foppishness and Shakespearean pretension but half the talent and none of the luck, inhabits its peculiar soul."
In the Voice, Melissa Anderson agrees that this "adaptation of Jonathan Ames's 1998 bildungsroman affectionately honors its characters' idiosyncrasies, never diluting them into typical indie-comedy quirk.... [T]he filmmakers and the cast... successfully create the hardest characters to pull off: exotic yet recognizable New Yorkers."
More from Marcy Dermansky, Stephen Holden (NYT), Benjamin Mercer (L), Noel Murray (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), James van Maanen, Lauren Wissot (Slant) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Ari Karpel talks with Berman and Pulcini for the NYT. Interviews with Kline: Bryan Alexander (Time), Rebecca Ascher-Walsh (LAT) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline). Aaron Hillis talks with Dano for IFC.
"With his defiant obliviousness and shabby nobility, Steve Carell certainly doesn't need a doofy Ceasar-cut, 1980's-movie nerd glasses and prosthetic buck teeth," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "But so it goes with Dinner for Schmucks, a dreadfully overwrought American remake on French writer-director Francis Veber's The Dinner Game. If one needs a telling summation of the differences between the source material and its American remake, briefly consider that title change."
Elbert Ventura in Slate on Paul Rudd: "For the last decade, he has toiled in the background as a supporting character in big hits and popped up in unseen indie comedies (if you haven't yet, see The Chateau for a peerless Rudd performance), always distinguishing himself as an adroit and funny presence. There have also been cameos in cult TV series, hilarious talk show appearances, and random Internet doodles. It all adds up a body of work that is one of the funniest — and most underrated — in recent American comedy.... But as he has gained mainstream success, the parts have started to conform to his good looks. Rudd, an absurdist at heart, keeps showing up in roles that ask him to tamp down his instincts and play the buddy, the boyfriend, the husband.... On the brink of being a star, Rudd may also be in danger of turning into that most boring of things: the relatable lead."
More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Shaun Brady (Philadelphia City Paper), Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Richard Corliss (Time), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Aaron Hillis (TONY), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Robert Horton (Herald), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Dan Kois (Voice), Genevieve Koski (AV Club), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Michael Joshua Rowin (L), AO Scott (NYT), Tom Shone (Slate), Kenneth Turan (LAT), Armond White (NYP), Michael Wilmington (Movie City News) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Interviews with Rudd: Sam Adams (Salon) and Robert Wilonsky (Voice). Steven Zeitchick has a backgrounder in the Los Angeles Times, where Susan King offers "a look at five wonderful French films that found new life the second time around — and five that would have fared better remaining solely on Gallic shores."
"Zac Efron is 22, but he already has that onset George Hamilton glow," writes Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe. "Which is perfect for Charlie St Cloud, a movie about a young sailing champion who angelically postpones his life to play catch with his dead, Red Sox-crazed, 11-year-old brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan). In limbo. Every day. The brother chooses to wait in limbo. But why should you? There are toenails to clip and shelves to dust." More from Marjorie Baumgarten (Austin Chronicle), William Goss (Cinematical), Aaron Hillis (Voice), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago, where Hank Sartin talks with Efron), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Michael O'Sullivan (Washington Post), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Nick Schager (Slant), AO Scott (NYT), Betsy Sharkey (LAT, where Amy Kaufman profiles Efron), Scott Tobias (AV Club) and Keith Uhlich (TONY).
"A PSA masquerading as an actual drama, Helen takes great pains to depict severe depression as not an emotional condition, but an illness, yet somewhere along the way forgets to articulate said thesis in a compelling way," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "The English-language debut of Sandra Nettelbeck is a monumentally torpid affair, a sort-of hybrid of Bug and When a Man Loves a Woman whose admirable qualities are overpowered by consuming stasis." More from Aaron Hillis in Time Out New York.
The Dry Land is "a painfully earnest drama about post-traumatic stress disorder that sticks so closely to the soldiers-coming-home template, writer-director Ryan Piers Williams seems to be diligently working through a checklist of returning-warrior-movie clichés," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), David Fear (TONY), Nick Pinkerton (Voice) and Andrew Schenker (Slant).
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw on The Concert: "The vivid, piercingly charismatic presence of Mélanie Laurent, who made her breakthrough in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, is the only reason for paying attention to this cheesy Europudding from the Romanian-born director Radu Mihaileanu." More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Tom Birchenough (Arts Desk), Ricky D'Ambrose (Slant), David Fear (TONY), Stephen Holden (NYT), Trevor Johnston (Time Out London), Michelle Orange (Movieline) and Tim Robey (Telegraph).
"Among other offenses, the 2001 talking-animal comedy Cats & Dogs was a pernicious piece of anti-cat propaganda, firmly siding with the canines in the eternal struggle between household pets," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "The sequel, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore, eases off on the hatefulness by providing a token nice kitty, but even she's subjected to waterboarding before she can be trusted. (Yes, a waterboarding joke. Because cats and dogs are just like people! Soooo cute!) But it's still about a feline plot for world domination, and the slobbering secret agents who stand in the way. And it's still, in the spirit of the original film, an unbelievable piece of shit." More from Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Mike Hale (NYT) and Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies).
"As a child growing up during the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodian journalist Thet Sambath lost much of his family in the Killing Fields, including his defiant father and his brother," writes Scott Tobias, here in a better mood at the AV Club. "Not long after his father's death, his mother was forced to marry a Khmer militiaman and died giving birth to their child. It's a massive understatement to say Sambath has a personal investment in his investigation of former Khmer killers 30 years later, yet Enemies of the People, a first-person chronicle of that investigation, doesn't reveal a man out for revenge. Indeed, Sambath's ability to set aside his animus and ingratiate himself with his reticent subjects makes this documentary possible in the first place."
"Restraint is precisely what makes this quietly harrowing documentary, composed mostly of interviews with former Khmer Rouge henchmen, so uncommonly devastating," writes Eric Hynes in Time Out New York. More from Diego Costa (Slant), Stephen Holden (NYT) and Andrew Schenker (Voice).
Eric Hynes again, here in the Voice on Smash His Camera: "With his lumpy face, Bronx accent, and streetwise hitch, Ron Galella comes on like a fringe player in some 70s New York B-movie — which, in reality, is similar to how the notorious paparazzo functioned during that decade and beyond, skulking along the margins to cast light upon stars like Burton and Brando, the latter even famously breaking his jaw with a sucker punch. Leon Gast's documentary portrait has a freewheeling charm that perfectly matches its subject, shifting focus between high-spirited testimonials, pocket cultural histories, blow-by-blow eyewitness accounts, and digressions on the aging photographer's extensive collection of rabbits." More from Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Noel Murray (AV Club), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Andrew Schenker (TONY), Paul Schrodt (Slant), AO Scott (NYT), Justin Stewart (L) and James van Maanen.
Aaron Cutler in Slant on Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel: "From the title onward, it and its army of Hefner pals (many of them stars: Gene Simmons, Tony Bennett, Jack Nicholson) are out to show you what a nice, sweet, gentle, open-minded guy the old pornographer is. Hefner, of course, is the octogenarian founder of Playboy, and as one witness says, every guy in history would 'give his left nut' to be the man — which would sort of defeat the point, if you think about it, but nevertheless the idea is valid." Nick Pinkerton in the Voice: "Brigitte Berman's premature-eulogy puff-piece documentary resurrects the younger, charismatically aloof Chicago-boy-made-rich in stock footage, while Hefner narrates along through a lifetime of scrapbooks." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir argues that "Hefner really is an immensely important figure in the cultural history of the 20th century, both for obvious reasons and much less obvious ones.... [T]he cartoon version of himself that he created from the mid-'70s onward, surrounded by a featureless human landscape of scientifically enhanced blond cyborgs, almost totally obscured what had once made him seem both genuine and significant." More from Gary Goldstein (LAT), Stephen Holden (NYT), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY) and James van Maanen. Steve Appleford profiles Hefner for the LA Weekly.
"Not up to adequately framing the title's question, let alone answering it, What's the Matter with Kansas? observes a cross-section of working- and middle-class Jayhawk State residents conducting their personal, political, and religious lives for 90 minutes." Bill Weber in Slant: "Aside from portraying Kansans as overwhelmingly white, rural, fundamentalist-Christian, and the kind of modern 'conservatives' who believe the Democratic Party is godlessly 'pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, and pro-gun control,' Joe Winston's documentary is maddeningly generic and without a central point: We know the general worldview and biases of the farmers, teachers, and students on screen, but are given only the vaguest clues of how they got that way, and how a state that was a hotbed of experimental socialism and a base for the Populist Party in the 19th and early 20th centuries turned rock-ribbed Republican." More from Michael Fox (Voice) and Andy Webster (NYT). James van Maanen has a few questions for Winston.
"Nearly 32 years ago, Sid Vicious, formerly the barely adequate but sullenly handsome replacement bassist for the Sex Pistols, woke up from a dopesick drug coma in the Chelsea Hotel and found his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, gut-stuck and dying in the bathroom." Nick Pinkerton in the Voice: "Documentary Who Killed Nancy re-enacts the romance leading up to that sordid episode, and the circumstances of Sid's OD mere months later." Andrew Schenker in Slant: "As valuable as [Alan G] Parker's film may be as a record of a specific time and place, it's missing the one key element that more than any other defines the scene it documents: the very music that makes us care about the scene in the first place." In the NYT, Jeannette Catsoulis finds the film "cares less about investigating a death than about vindicating an accused killer." TONY's David Fear: "Simply casting doubts isn't the same as making a compelling counterargument — or crafting a coherent film."
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