Nothing too thrilling opening nationwide this week, so let's go local first and then overseas before running down the multiplex fare.
"Visual Acoustics is about Julius Shulman, a Southern California architectural photographer who died last year at the age of 98, and also about a bad dream he outlived - postmodern architecture." Charles Mudede in the Stranger: "The 1970s gave us great cinema (from The Conversation to Taxi Driver) but very bad economics (neoliberalism) and architecture (Venturi-ism). Shulman photographed the best of Southern California modernism, a branch initiated by his first and very famous clients, Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler. What Shulman captured was the essence of the utopian movement, its effort to reduce living/dwelling to the elements - to efficiency, to light, lines, and space (the 'receptacle of becoming'). The documentary is excellent for those who want a quick introduction to the man, the houses he photographed, and the movement he promoted in national magazines." At Seattle's Northwest Film Forum for one week.
"When Word Is Out was released in theaters and broadcast on public television more than eight years after the Stonewall riots, media depictions were still largely confined to unflattering stereotypes, and gay audiences had yet to see their experiences reflected on screen." Dennis Lim in the New York Times: "Reviewing the film in The Advocate, Vito Russo declared, 'The silence of gay people on the screen has been broken.' But gay (and gay-friendly) filmmakers were never exactly mute, nor have they all opted to speak in the same ways. Queer/Art/Film, a monthly series that [began] its new season at the IFC Center on Monday, serves as a reminder that there is a strain of gay cinema that predates and runs parallel to the consciousness-raising tradition pioneered by Word Is Out. Organized by the filmmaker Ira Sachs (Forty Shades of Blue) and the journalist Adam Baran, the series is programmed by gay artists and writers invited to present a film they find personally significant."
Word Is Out screens at Anthology Film Archives through Sunday. More on the film directed by the Mariposa Film Group (pictured above) from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Andrew Chan (L), Eric Henderson (Slant), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York) and James van Maanen.
"A Palestinian terrorist and an Israeli outcast lock fates in For My Father, a wartime romance about people more at odds with their own cultures than with each other's," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. Adds Aaron Hillis in Time Out New York: "It's a no-brainer why this crowd-pleasing romantic thriller, the latest example of suicide-bomber cinema, was nominated for seven Israeli Academy Awards. It allows audiences to congratulate themselves for acknowledging deep-seated complexities without the burden of actually grappling with them." More from Jay Antani (Slant) and Michelle Orange (Voice). At the Quad Cinema.
Off and Running is "the PBS-documentary equivalent of a Hollywood high-concept movie," writes Kevin B Lee in Time Out New York. "Avery Klein-Cloud, an African-American track-star teen adopted by a pair of Jewish lesbian moms along with two brothers (one racially mixed, one Korean), rebels against her family upon making contact with her biological mother. But thanks to Nicole Opper's access (she's the athlete's former teacher and family friend), we're treated to a remarkably intimate chronicle of a girl's identity struggle." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Ella Taylor (Voice), James van Maanen and Farihah Zaman (Reverse Shot). Pamela Cohn talks with Nicole Opper for Hammer to Nail. At IFC Center.
"North Face is a surprisingly good action film disguised as a throwaway middlebrow import dumped into Manhattan art houses during January's annual pre-Oscar black hole," finds Benjamin Strong, writing in the L Magazine. "Breathe in the air: Philipp Stölzl's based-on-a-true-story debut feature, an uneven but often thrilling nail-biter, concerns a doomed mountaineering expedition undertaken three weeks before the 1936 Berlin Olympics."
At the AV Club, Scott Tobias agrees, but only halfway. "Every scene on the eponymous wall is tense and riveting, capturing the bruising physicality and constant danger of going straight up an unstable rock, helpless against the possibility of avalanches or sudden blizzards. Every scene off the wall, by contrast, is a plodding, graceless chunk of dramatic context." More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Craig Kennedy, Brian Miller (Voice), Jeff Reichert (providing a brief history of the mountain movie to boot at indieWIRE), Keith Uhlich (TONY), James van Maanen and Bill Weber (Slant).
"Steve James was finishing his breakthrough documentary Hoop Dreams in 1993 when Allen Iverson - then a high school basketball phenom in James's hometown of Hampton, Virginia - was arrested after a racially charged brawl and charged with a felony," begins the Chicago Reader's Ed M Koziarski. "No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson, which [James] shot from October 2008 to September 2009 and is finishing this week, will have preview screenings January 31 and February 4 as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center's Stranger Than Fiction documentary festival. It'll officially premiere in March at South by Southwest, and ESPN will broadcast it on April 13. Returning to Hampton, James found passions about the Iverson case running as hot as ever."
IN THE UK
"South Korean writer-director-producer Yang Ik-june makes an impressively swaggering debut - in more ways than one - with his unapologetically violent and relentlessly foul-mouthed drama Breathless," writes Neil Young. "Not only does his first turn behind the camera result in a picture that's won critical acclaim and film festival awards from Singapore and Tokyo to Rotterdam and Austin, but Yang is also the star of the movie, and his entrance - nonchalantly wielding a baseball bat to break up a street-demo - is among the more startling introductions of a film protagonist in recent memory." Four out of five stars from Tom Huddleston in Time Out London.
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw on Our Beloved Month of August: "Little by little, this entrancingly gentle and subtle comic film by Portuguese director Miguel Gomes stole my heart.... The film follows a self-created, evolutionary path; it just goes with its own flow, summoning up memories of French filmmakers such as Eric Rohmer and documentarists Nicolas Philibert and Raymond Depardon, and in its deliberate drift from fiction into fact, there is perhaps an echo of Pedro Costa." Five out of five stars from Time Out London's David Jenkins, but Neil Young is less enthusiastic: "There's considerable talent here, but it's still very much in a wayward, rough-formed state. Like Yang, Gomes is clearly a name to bear in mind, though with the proviso that the extravagant praise heaped on Our Beloved Month of August from certain quarters may well lead him down unproductively pretentious culs-de-sac."
The Guardian almost seems more concerned with what's opening in two weeks than with this week's batch. February 12 sees A Single Man hit theaters, for example, and the paper has Rick Moody thinking out loud, "Perhaps, by watching this cascade of films and television shows from the mid-60s, we are attempting to live through the period yet again, that we might in this way somehow resolve the 1980s and 1990s and the poisonous turn of the century without the fin de siècle handwringing." And there's a profile of Tom Ford by Andrew Pulver, too.
Max Ophüls's Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) has been "brought back in lustrous restoration by the BFI," as David Thomson notes in his recommendation. "You should see it, of course, just because it is Ophüls, because John Houseman produced it and Howard Koch adapted it from the Stefan Zweig novella. These are all first-rate contributors - then there is Franz Planer, who shot its Vienna of 1900; there is Travis Banton, a drunk on the slide, fired by Paramount and Fox, but able to design one more great costume picture. And the film has Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan in the leads - they are good, of course, but they seem to have switched roles. When I first saw the film - at eight, I suppose (too young, but my mother had taken me) – Fontaine was emphatically the lead. It was a film about her, Lisa (or about my mother and me). Now I can see that it's a movie about Jourdan's character, Stefan Brand."
Two five-out-of-five-star reviews this week from Mark Schilling in the Japan Times: "Yoshihiro Nakamura has made a mix of indie and commercial films, from the multilayered, end-of-the-world thriller Fish Story (2008) to the hospital mystery General Rouge no Gaisen (The Triumphant General Rouge, 2009). Whatever the subject, he always injects his personal obsessions, from the shape-shifting nature of truth to the connectedness of human beings, even across decades and generations. His latest, Golden Slumber, boasts a man-on-the-run story with many Hollywood predecessors (Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest is one, Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity, another), but Nakamura uses it, as always, for his own purposes."
And: "Selected as the closing film of the upcoming Berlin Film Festival, Ototo (Younger Brother) is Yoji Yamada's first contemporary drama in a decade, since Jugo-sai Gakko 4 (A Class to Remember 4: Fifteen, 2000).... Many Japanese directors try to jerk tears - it's among the surest routes to box office success here. But Yamada is one of the few who can touch the heart - and he's seldom done it better than in Ototo."
THAT MULTIPLEX FARE
"It seems to be the fate of almost every halfway decent British television mini-series to be cannibalised by Hollywood and regurgitated as a movie," grumbles Wendy Ide in the London Times. "After Traffic and State of Play comes Edge of Darkness, based on a 1985 six-part BBC series of the same name, and plagued by the same narrative issues as other adaptations that attempted to cram 300-plus minutes of tightly plotted thriller into a third of the original running time."
"In the series, clenched cop Bob Peck inched his way through a labyrinthine conspiracy - CIA spooks, government contracts, anti-nuclear activists - to get to the bottom of who killed his daughter and why," recalls the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "This being a mass-market American transfer, and one with Mel in it, inching is out. It lurches forward like a battered old Chevy being started in third gear."
More from Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), New York's David Edelstein (twice), Robert Horton (Herald), Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Michael O'Sullivan (Washington Post), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), AO Scott (NYT), Ryan Stewart (Slant), Keith Uhlich (TONY), Armond White (New York Press), Michael Wilmington (Movie City News) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
Geoff Boucher talks with Gibson for the Los Angeles Times. Joshua Rothkopf interviews director Martin Campbell for Time Out New York. And in the Guardian, screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce looks back admiringly at the original series.
"Steve Buscemi cuts so droll and heart-wrenching a figure in Hue Rhodes's deadpan road movie Saint John of Las Vegas that the plot - shaggy and inconsequential as it is - gets in the way," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Buscemi plays the title role, a compulsive gambler who flees Vegas after a hair-raising unlucky streak and takes a desk job at an Albuquerque auto-insurance firm.... It's too bad Sarah Silverman plays the dotty officemate who falls for him. I love her stand-up, but her acting is all hipster camp - and she and Buscemi don't mesh. When John and a fraud investigator (Romany Malco) head back to Vegas to investigate a stripper's injury claim, the film turns into one of those indie parades of eccentrics that are hit-and-miss but mostly miss."
More from Andrew Grant (TONY), Stephen Holden (NYT), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Vadim Rizov (Voice) and Nick Schager (Slant). Interviews with Buscemi: Michael Musto (Voice) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline). Aaron Hillis talks with Romany Malco for IFC.
"Propped up by its writers' Sexy Beast pedigree and ability to enlist a couple of that superior film's stars, 44 Inch Chest parades profanity, jumbled chronology, and limp psychodrama but proves woefully short on character development or narrative structure," writes Nick Schager in Slant.
Julien Allen for Reverse Shot: "Rarely outside of the seventies disaster movies of Irwin Allen has such a high caliber cast been assembled to play characters as insubstantial as these - and it shows in the performances. [Tom] Wilkinson is miscast as a cockney mummy's boy and doesn't convince; [Ian] McShane offers what amounts to little more than a gay parody of his role in Sexy Beast; [John] Hurt is entertaining as the toxic pensioner, but struggles throughout with a set of false dentures."
More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), David Denby (New Yorker), AO Scott (NYT) and Keith Uhlich (TONY).
"[E]ven the most ardently romantic suspender of disbelief is going to have a hard time successfully escaping into the preposterously awful world of When in Rome," warns Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. More from Jenni Miller (Cinematical), AO Scott (NYT) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
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