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April 2012

Tempting Faith

The Monk (2011)


When the novel on which “The Monk” is based was first published in 1796, it caused a sensation thanks to both its salacious content and blatantly anti-Catholic stance. The author, Matthew Gregory Lewis, preferred unbridled passion to piety believing that a life following your natural desires was far better than one spent devoted to God. The Marquis de Sade was a big fan of the book, which is a sure sign that “The Monk” is not something to give your grandmother for Christmas.

Such a novel was bound to attract the attention of filmmakers; and there have been various attempts to bring the story to the screen. The most notable was a version scripted by Luis Buñuel which was released in 1972. Now it is Dominik Moll, director of the offbeat contemporary thrillers “Harry, He’s Here to Help” (released in the United States as “With a Friend Like Harry ...”) and “Lemming,” who brings us his own interpretation of a tale which leans heavily towards the Gothic.

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In the Good Hands of the Professional

Safe (2012)

John Baer/Lionsgate

“Safe,” the new film starring Jason Statham, refers to the hero’s protection of a child and to the whereabouts of a huge amount of money. But it could also describe the safe pair of hands that a movie starring Mr. Statham provides, with viewers secure in the knowledge that the film will meet their expectations, featuring a skilled and dependable protagonist who will punch, kick, shoot, stab, jump and/or drive his way through various predicaments and defeat the bad guys. While the outcome of “Safe” is never in doubt, the film puts a fresh spin on this action-hero film formula.

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Revenge Is a Party Platter Best Served Cold

Marvel's The Avengers/Marvel Avengers Assemble (2012)

Zade Rosenthal/Marvel

Comic-book fans have eagerly awaited a cinematic outing for superhero troupe, the Avengers, ever since Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced in 2005 that Marvel would effectively take ownership of their universe and begin producing its own films. Five films later — two installments of “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor” — and the time has finally come for our heroic misfits to join forces and fight a common enemy in Joss Whedon’s “Marvel’s The Avengers” (released in Britain as “Marvel Avengers Assemble”).

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Half in Love With Easeful Death

Edge (2012)


Surfacing briefly in theaters two years after it was filmed, on the way to what looks like a much more natural berth on a smaller screen, Carol Morley's intimate feature film, "Edge," proves again that the director of "Dreams of a Life" is drawn to looking mortality right in the eye. Its eight seemingly unconnected characters turn out to be very much intertwined — first by parallel threads of loss, regret and unhappiness; and then by a set of coincidences brazenly assembled for the purpose of allowing them all some closure. Marooned in a hotel on a particularly bleak portion of the English south coast in midwinter, they collectively ponder the damage done by an uncaring universe before discovering that their creator isn't as vindictive as all that. Having declared that they can't go on, they go on.

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Yes, You Can Put Your Mind at Ease

Battleship (2012)

ILM/Universal Pictures

The most interesting aspect of Peter Berg's last couple of features was always the involvement of Michael Mann; and Mr. Berg's inclination to take his producer's blue-collar urban-myth-making and process it into something less buttoned-down. But "Battleship" swings in other directions, borrowing instead from the Tony Scott book of naval ballistics and immediately summoning up instead the spirit of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer circa 1986. It also has the gall, the nerve, the stainless-steel balls required to include a version of the Hasbro pastime's actual gameplay into its plot as a military strategy — for which, frankly, hats off.

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Follow the Cult Leader

Sound of My Voice (2012)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

"Sound of My Voice" — the first feature film directed by Zal Batmanglij — is an artsy, indie movie about attractive people and cults. In the shadow of Sean Durkin's "Martha Marcy May Marlene," the subject matter might seem familiar, but Mr. Batmanglij took a markedly different approach. Gone are the quiet, languorous shots — Mr. Batmanglij's film has more urgency, more flashy twists and a healthy amount of science fiction.

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Rock of Age

This Must Be the Place (2011)


On paper, “This Must be the Place” is an intriguing proposition: This Italian-French-Irish co-production marks the English-language debut of Neapolitan director Paolo Sorrentino, utilizes eclectic filming locations — including Dublin, New York and New Mexico — and stars two of the finest actors working today — Sean Penn and Frances McDormand. It’s a crushing shame therefore that this cosmopolitan picture is such a muddled disappointment.

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