Goodbye to Language (2014)
The unveiling of a new Jean-Luc Godard film always incites circlejerks among elitist cinephiles, who collectively muster as many pretentious fancy words and insufferable exclamation marks for the occasion as their copy editors will tolerate. Never mind that they've been punk’d — encore — by the biggest troll working in cinema. When Gaspar Noé splices in a gratuitous insert of hard-core sex, it’s the tantrum of an enfant terrible. When Mr. Godard does the same thing, it's poetry! Whatever, dude.
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Christine Plenus/Sundance Selects
Two Days, One Night (2014)
The arrival of Marion Cotillard's star wattage into the midst of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's template of realist urban travails in "Two Days, One Night" turns out to have little effect on the brothers' business model, which trundles merrily onward as if nothing untoward had happened. It does though bring to mind some fresh questions about their success rate, especially for any refuseniks already inclined to wonder how reliably they succeed at all.
Continue reading "Labor Pains" »
Nicole Rivelli/Vértigo Films
Welcome to New York (2014)
The pre-emptive disclaimer opening Abel Ferrara's "Welcome to New York" urges that no one interpret the film as commenting on any real-life events in particular; but its lines are so far apart that reading between them and detecting the name of Dominique Strauss-Kahn is taken for granted. Duly primed, the audience is then dealt a disorientating conversation between Gérard Depardieu and three rapt listeners, in which he gnomically ponders why he, the actor, took the part. "I'm an anarchist," he growls. "I don't like politicians. I hate them. I prefer acting where I don't like the guy." Then you notice that one of the folks paying rapt attention is Shanyn Leigh: a Ferrara regular, memorable in "4:44 Last Day on Earth," a face in "Go Go Tales." She's billed as female journalist. What is going on? Are they holding an acting seminar? Is Mr. Ferrara making a point about life and performance being a hair's breadth apart? The cloying fakery of the rich and shameless? Or just a way to hang the audience by the heels? Ninety seconds in, and it's straight down the rabbit hole.
Continue reading "Mo Money Mo Problems" »
Nicola Dove/Pathé Films
Bookended by the London Pride parades of 1984 and 1985, “Pride” dramatizes the real-life Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign to raise funds for the Neath, Dulais and Swansea Valleys’ Miners Support Group in Wales during a yearlong strike.
Continue reading "A Civil Union" »
James Dittger/Summit Entertainment
Step Up All In (2014)
The adorable “Step Up” series of movies has made a lot of money by doing something very simple: holding the camera still and letting very good dancers do their thing. They are mostly filmed in wide shots so we can see exactly what they are doing. The camera doesn’t move too much so we can focus on how great the dancers are. The mood and music are upbeat; and nothing is more important than one’s crew. “Step Up All In” doesn’t deviate from this formula — and that’s great.
Continue reading "Stretch, No Imagination" »
Tracy Bennett/TriStar Pictures
When the Game Stands Tall (2014)
“When the Game Stands Tall” centers on the real-life Spartans football team of De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., under its legendary former coach Bob Ladouceur, here played by Jim Caviezel. It isn’t about how the team achieved its storied 151-game winning streak, however; but rather how it ultimately fumbled that winning streak and then recovered.
Continue reading "Friday Night Blights" »
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Risky: It’s a word that’s been used almost relentlessly in relation to Marvel’s new kids on the block — a huge gamble on a part of the Marvel universe that until now was considered niche, unknown to all but the hard-core fans and tricky to translate onto film.
The universe is complex; the factions many and varied; and the characters are more than a little eccentric. It was an accident waiting to happen, but sometimes wonderful things happen in the most unexpected of places.
Let’s cut to the chase — “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a riot. Blistering action, sometimes dizzying especially in 3-D, a smart script and the kind of love-hate relationships and whip-crack dialogue you might find in an episode of “Firefly.”
Continue reading "A Frenemy in Need" »
Frank Masi/20th Century Fox
Let's Be Cops (2014)
The buddy cop subgenre has proven such a bankable formula in Hollywood — yet again by the success of “Ride Along” earlier this year — that some might now consider it a bona fide genre. The trope often combines varying percentages of thriller and comedy to mixed results. Some entries like “Lethal Weapon” skew more toward the thriller, while ones like “White Chicks” obviously yield to the comedy. Casting choices usually give a good indication which way it will turn out: If one of the partners belongs in the K-9 unit, you can be sure of the lowered stakes.
Besides the fact that neither of the main characters is an actual police officer, “Let’s Be Cops” feels unorthodox for defying these formulaic expectations the subgenre has been steadily creating through trial and error since its inception in the 1980s. The film actually has incredibly high stakes, like a much sillier “48 Hrs.” rather than a more thrilling “21 Jump Street.” If it’s any indication, Damon Wayans, Jr. plays the straight man to Jake Johnson’s instigator — complete with a reference to the Glover-Gibson dynamic.
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Sarah Manvel/Critic's Notebook
An outsider to the Irish film industry would be surprised at the depth and breadth of work available at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh. Held over five days and six nights every July in the largest city on Ireland’s west coast, the Fleadh (pronounced “flah,” Irish Gaelic for festival) brings together new and old talent in one place to act as a doorway to the global scene. Since its winning short automatically becomes eligible for Oscar consideration, the festival is able to punch considerably above its apparent weight.
Continue reading "Troubles Every Day" »
Warner Brothers Pictures
Into the Storm (2014)
“Into the Storm” imagines a tornado outbreak — including an EF-5 on the enhanced Fujita scale — wreaking havoc on fictional Silverton, Okla, in Tornado Alley. A team of storm chasers on a fruitless documentary project (among them Matt Walsh, Sarah Wayne Callies and Arlen Escarpeta) arrives fashionably in a Titus tank, while the vice principal of a local high school (Richard Armitage) attempts to locate a missing son (Jeremy Sumpter) and his classmate (Alycia Debnam-Carey).
We’ll leave film’s scientific legitimacy to professional meteorologists to assess, although the one played by Ms. Wayne Callies herein certainly casts doubts on the plausibility of this parade of cyclones. Since the film eschews the 3-D gimmick de rigueur for all Hollywood tentpoles, the only thing that separates “Into the Storm” from “Twister” made 18 years ago is its found-footage trope, utilized most memorably by “The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield.” As such, the entire endeavor is a total, um, disaster.
Continue reading "Twister of Fate" »