Unloving Memory

Laurie Sparham/Studiocanal

Before I Go to Sleep (2014)

Nicole Kidman spends the bulk of "Before I Go to Sleep" in a state of high anxiety, although only an audience prepared to leave all skepticism at the door will be able to say the same. Despite the best efforts of Colin Firth to seem mysterious and Mark Strong to inspire trust – so a bit of a stretch for both of them – what vitality there is in the film comes from Ms. Kidman's cowering, shrieking and panicking; and even that's not really the actor's strong suit.

Continue reading "Unloving Memory" »

Labor Pains

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" »

Mo Money Mo Problems

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" »

A Dread & Two Noughts

Roadside Attractions

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig's comic rapport is the foundation of "The Skeleton Twins," a bittersweet comedy which lets the two of them bounce off each other for an amiable 90 minutes without actually breaking a sweat — or any new ground, for that matter.

Continue reading "A Dread & Two Noughts" »

Amazon Prime

Eduardo Moreno/Open Road Films

The Green Inferno (2014)

Eli Roth's latest think piece on international relations is a gleefully nasty culture clash between youthful Western arrogance and a simple tribal lifestyle, somewhere down a crazy river. In "The Green Inferno" a group of handsome white-bread students — naive dim bulbs to a man and led by an out-and-out creep — set about protesting against rain-forest deforestation in the Amazon, and end up on the receiving end of a cannibal holocaust. At first it's all high-fives and banter and chaining themselves to bulldozers; but then later there's running and screaming and explosive diarrhea.

Continue reading "Amazon Prime" »

Spies Like Them

Kerry Brown/Roadside Attractions

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

Anton Corbijn and John le Carré apparently got on like a house on fire producing "A Most Wanted Man," but make an odd-couple pairing. The best le Carré adaptations — assuming you buy that films can capture the author's Olympian monotony of civil-service espionage in the first place — rely on the innate thrill of a great actor in a bad suit retrieving a folder from a cabinet and returning to the desk. Mr. Corbijn likes to film the rites of tradesmen doing their thing, although for the most part seems keener on the poses they strike while doing so than the dirt under their fingernails. Between them, these two not-quite opposing instincts build a reasonable facsimile of the author's tale, and then pretty much admire each other to a standstill.

Continue reading "Spies Like Them" »

Fully Steamed Ahead


Snowpiercer (2014)

Anyone coming to "Snowpiercer" as a fan of Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette's graphic novels may be in for an attack of sugar rush. Bong Joon-ho's film — less an adaptation than a parallel-universe tribute act — strips out the dour Holocaust-haunted imagery and discursive chat of the original in favor of broad sci-fi pastiche, night-vision axe fights and Tilda Swinton's comedy teeth.

The result loses something in translation, but gains a few thousand watts in the caboose. Question much (or any) of the logic behind the last of humankind riding a vast train around an uninhabitable ice-bound Earth, and it crumbles in your hands. Instead the film would prefer you to grasp its grand parable, restated at regular intervals: that political revolution requires the seizing of the proverbial engine car from the gilded layabouts in first class, something Curtis (Chris Evans) and his fellow peasants from the slum carriages at the back of the train set about doing.

Continue reading "Fully Steamed Ahead" »

A Very Long Adolescence

Jan Thijs/Sydney Film Festival 2014

The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet (2014)

Exactly what a film director is supposed to do with 3-D remains an open question, but "The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet" presents Jean-Pierre Jeunet with an open goal. The charts, diagrams, schematics and unlikely doodads of Reif Larsen's illuminated source novel are freed from their planar life and sent spinning in all directions, direct from the imagination of young Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet — a rare example of the technology perhaps adding something to the inner life of the character. Limiting the 3-D to just those flights of fancy might have made the point more effectively; instead it gets diluted by the usual cavalcade of pollen, protrusions and projectiles threatening to bean you between the eyes.

Continue reading "A Very Long Adolescence" »

Dial M for Murmur

David Koskas/Lucky Red

Grace of Monaco (2014)

Future scholars mapping the course of the celebrity biopic as the genre headed for the rocks will immerse themselves in "Diana," "Rush," "The Fifth Estate" and "Grace of Monaco," and be forced to concede — before they pass out — that the one with Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly bucked the trend — just not in ways that made the slightest difference. Olivier Dahan's film limits itself to a brief window of Kelly's time as fairy-tale princess, sparing audiences from the dreaded template of rise and fall; and it puts its subject in a functioning historical context, rather than just fetishizing her inner pain. It even features a performance you can't look away from, although that happens to be Tim Roth's portrayal of Prince Rainier as a monarch chafing under the weight of history, who might at any moment stab Charles de Gaulle with a fish knife.

Continue reading "Dial M for Murmur" »

Evil Under the Sun

Jack English/Studiocanal

The Two Faces of January (2014)

Enough of author Patricia Highsmith's intuition for the dire fallibility of menfolk lingers in "The Two Faces of January" to give the film a certain residual bite, despite the tendency of writer and director Hossein Amini to desiccate most of the juice out of everything. No surprise that the scriptwriter of "Drive" is prone to flat and emphatic point-making — although Mr. Amini handles his script with kid gloves compared to Nicolas Winding Refn's self-annihilating injection of TNT — but at least this gives more unhindered screen time to Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac, cutting a dash across early-1960s Athens and Crete in nice linen suits while coming to detest each other.

Continue reading "Evil Under the Sun" »

© 2008-2014 Critic's Notebook and its respective authors. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use
Subscribe to Critic's Notebook | Follow Us on Twitter | Contact Us | Write for Us | Reprints and Permissions