Christian Geisnaes/Magnolia Pictures
Upholding the tradition by which Lars von Trier spooks the massed ranks of the tabloids with talk of pornography before then unveiling films that prove as arousing as a kick in the knee, the four-hour, two-volume "Nymphomaniac" is merciless and hilarious in close proximity. The story skips between an intellectual investigation of a woman's insatiable libido and a stylized erotic farce, threatening to cast its vote against optimism altogether and decide that no peace between the sexes is possible or perhaps advisable. Along the way, Volume I — with its droll laughs at regular intervals — becomes Volume II, which plunges into darkness headfirst. Large themes are invoked; large genitalia are inspected. Large theories are inevitable.
Continue reading "Danish Blue" »
The use of Imax 3-D is still something of a gimmick to get us into the cinema instead of watching movies on ever smaller personal screens. It is best used to immerse us into the world of the story with sensory overload. A great deal depends on the choice of the world. The one in "Stalingrad" is one of the more unusual ones — at least to non-Russian audiences — in recent memory.
Continue reading "Destiny at the Gates" »
Columbia Pictures and MGM Pictures
There are several films wrapped up in "RoboCop," of which the new one starring Joel Kinnaman as the luckless Alex Murphy and Abbie Cornish as his traumatized wife is competent, slick and knows that some topicality will condense automatically in a movie with Samuel L. Jackson as a ranting conservative talk-show host. The immediate problem is the heavy fan-service nods made to another film, Paul Verhoeven's 1987 original, which tend to land with a clang. If the new model is going to invoke its predecessor as knowingly as that, it can't complain if some comparisons are made about the level of ambition. The Reaganite military-industrial complex with its heartless wonks was only one target of the original film, a curate's cornucopia that also scooped up the Vietnam mind-set, blue-collar nobility, the role of women, contempt for intelligence and religious symbolism. José Padilha's version puts all its chips on one number instead, correctly spotting that contracted-out drone warfare is a moral minefield, but down-shifting the end result from gallows pulp to a high-concept sci-fi actioneer about a dead-shot cyborg and the woman who loves him. American Jesus has been swapped out for American Gladiator.
Continue reading "To Protect and Preserve" »
Wake in Fright (1972)
John Grant (Gary Bond) is a teacher working in a small school house in the Australian outback who is unhappy in his job, seeing his teaching contract as a prison sentence. The Christmas holiday offers Grant a brief respite from his job; he plans to leave for a break in Sydney, and is spurred on by visions of a beach and a young woman. On his way to Sydney, Grant stops over in the town of Bundanyabba — nicknamed “the Yabba” by the locals — for the night, which is when his life changes dramatically.
Venturing out to a local bar, Grant meets a friendly policeman (Chips Rafferty) and an eccentric doctor (Donald Pleasence), but he shows obvious discomfort in having to drink and socialize with them when he would much rather be left alone. Grant soon discovers a gambling game in the bar and sees a chance to win enough money so that he can leave his job. Instead, he loses all his money and finds himself trapped in a nightmarish situation with seemingly no way out.
Continue reading "School Daze Down Under" »
About Last Night (2014)
Matt Kennedy/Screen Gems
“Hot Tub Time Machine” director Steve Pink’s “urban” reinterpretation of “About Last Night” unexpectedly feels as current and vital as can be — no small feat if you take into account the fact that the source material is a 1974 David Mamet play, first brought to the big screen in 1986 by Edward Zwick and starring Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins. It's all the more noteworthy that the parallel friends-with-benefits relationships Mr. Mamet once christened “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” now raise an eyebrow hardly ever.
Continue reading "Game, Sex, Match" »
The Lego Movie (2014)
Warner Brothers Pictures
Even though Claymation is de rigueur in the realm of stop-motion animation, brickfilms date all the way back to the 1970s. There hasn’t been a prominent example perhaps because the Lego Group unsurprisingly pursued legal action over “The Magic Portal,” a feature-length brickfilm made in the late 1980s. The precedent has been enough to scare off aspiring brickfilm makers since, even though the company seemingly reversed its stance in the early 2000s with the release of Lego Studios kits.
As its title suggests, “The Lego Movie” has the company’s blessing and touts the virtues of the product. The sense of product placement and corporate synergy only deepens with Warner Brothers Animation seizing the opportunity to parade the fleet of the DC Comics characters in its catalog.
Continue reading "A Few Bricks Shy of a Load" »
Draft Day (2014)
Dale Robinette/Summit Entertainment
The N.F.L.-sanctioned “Draft Day” doesn’t just prominently feature two teams — Cleveland Browns and Seattle Seahawks — at the core of its drama, it also boasts such a glut of cameos — including one by the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell — that if you blink you might miss one. (Head count will follow once the studio issues the press notes.)
Ivan Reitman’s film isn’t so much a celebration of athletic prowess or even good sportsmanship, though. While it does mirror those follow-your-heart narratives employed by many sports flicks such as “Moneyball” and “Field of Dreams,” “Draft Day” demonstrates that shrewd business savvy trumps conviction and passion for the game.
Continue reading "Money Bull" »
Grand Central (2013)
57th BFI London Film Festival
Love is often portrayed as a dangerous game; and yet by setting "Grand Central" against the unconventional backdrop of a nuclear power plant, Rebecca Zlotowski veils her picture in a darker and infinitely more stifling fog of threat. The seeming sterility of the plant lies in stark contrast to the beauty of the burgeoning and forbidden relationship that develops between Gary (Tahar Rahim), a carefree plant rookie desperate to kick out on his own, and confident Karole (an alluring Léa Seydoux), erstwhile fiancée of Gary’s colleague Toni (Denis Ménochet).
Continue reading "Double Exposure" »
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Wilson Webb/20th Century Fox
Based on the classic James Thurber story of the same name as well as being an update of the 1947 film starring Danny Kaye, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” centers on the title character (Ben Stiller), a middle-aged man who works in the photographic department of Life magazine, but who seems detached from the world around him. Walter is a daydreamer who drifts off on sudden flights of fancy without warning to the amusement and bemusement of those around him, including Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), a colleague he yearns for, and a sarcastic corporate representative (Adam Scott) who mocks him.
Continue reading "Midlife Gap Year" »
The Selfish Giant (2013)
Agatha A. Nitecka/57th BFI London Film Festival
"The Selfish Giant" claims to be inspired by an Oscar Wilde short story, but only the title appears to be. Arbor (Conner Chapman) is 12 and almost out of control. He lives with his overwhelmed mother (Rebecca Manley) and a drug-dealing older brother (Elliott Tittensor) who cannot be stopped from selling his A.D.H.D. medication. They sleep on the living room sofas, but their house is much nicer than that of Arbor’s best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas), whose parents are settled Travelers (i.e. Gypsies) with no money and far too many children. Swifty is good with horses, which brings the boys to the attention of Kitten (Sean Gilder, well known from the British version of "Shameless"), a scrap dealer who also organizes illegal horse-and-trap races and the significant bets which are placed on them. Both Arbor’s and Swifty’s mothers are desperate for money, and both boys feel that they are useless in school. One thing pretty much leads to another.
Continue reading "Coming of Age on the Scrap Heap" »