The Rewrite (2014)
Hugh Grant and Marc Lawrence — now as telepathically linked as Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese — continue their long-term project of knocking the actor down a peg or two in "The Rewrite." Way back in "Two Weeks Notice" he was a billionaire, but their latest comedy finds Mr. Grant busted all the way back to Hollywood scriptwriter. And it's tough to get lower than that. Marooned in the sticks by an uncaring Tinseltown, this cynical grinch sees the appeal of honest toil and the affections of a feisty local lady — a plot that once kept Michael J. Fox in business and today feels like being beaten to death with a marshmallow.
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Entertainment One Films US
Maps to the Stars (2014)
Bruce Wagner's novel "Dead Stars" — the sister-mother to his script for David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars" once the production process had run its course — is fevered and fixated: a tirade about the sight of Hollywood parents and their kids locked in self-destruction. Its presiding spirits could include Terry Richardson, who's miraculously never actually mentioned; and whoever first hacked into Jennifer Lawrence's iCloud, whose coming is practically foretold. If Mr. Cronenberg had made his film equally feverish it might be easier to embrace, but instead he applies a bucket of cold water. Any actual zeitgeist is given such a wide berth that everything happens in a safely isolated sandpit, somewhere in a Never-Never-La-La-Land.
Continue reading "Burn Hollywood Burn" »
The Riot Club (2014)
"The Riot Club" wants to mortify and astonish, presenting a bunch of Oxford University's finest on an apocalyptic privilege-fueled binge through a country pub which leaves no prole uninsulted, no woman unmistreated and one well-meaning innocent on a saline drip for the crime of social climbing. But the satire is surely old news, certainly for anyone primed by the gloriously awful old photo of David Cameron and pals in the preening outfits of the Bullingdon Club, an image that no copyright lawyer can now stake through the heart — the film recreates a version of it, just in case. Most of Lone Scherfig's movie is spent shaking the English establishment so warmly by the throat that it summons up Monty Python's "Upper-Class Twit of the Year" as much as anything else.
Continue reading "Let England Shake" »
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" »
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" »
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" »
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.
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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" »
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" »