The Descendants is a very funny film that embraces the big themes–love, death–without getting all sentimental on us. It opens at sea in a speedboat, with a close-up of a woman’s laughing face, wind in her short blond hair, sounds of the engine and the hull striking the waves cut off by a black screen.
Film buffs, the internationalist division, always look forward to the newest offering from Spain’s bad-boy writer-director Pedro Almodóvar, whose early career–splashy, pan-sexual, comic and melodramatic–heralded the true end of the Franco era. Almodóvar proved not a flash-in-the-pan but an original filmmaker, mixing genres, celebrating divas, adding violence to slapstick and making sex fun and naughty.
Film Review / Forget the hothouse histrionics of the overheated Oliver Stone Wall Street movies, and even the recent, ambitious documentarys about the billion-dollar shenanigans of our new self-appointed aristocrats–the masters of giant investment firms (Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, et al.) and their brainy analysts. It’s 2008, a pregnant 24 hours in the life (and near-death) of one such firm, given to gambling by way of packaging, re-packaging, and then selling billions of dollars of bonds backed by toxic subprime mortgages, whose additional extralegal leveraging could (and did) create losses greater than the house capitalization.
Like most of its studio-financed brethren, the horror remake of The Thing is shocking but not scary, formulaic but not surprising, and predictable, but not suspenseful. The Thing, a bad-tempered alien whose spaceship (looking like a waffle-iron) has crashed into the vast (well, half-vast) Antarctic wastes, began life as a Saturday Evening Post magazine story and became a hit low-budget movie in 1951, a well-told scary creature feature.
One of the scariest ideas for Halloween at the movies is a remake of the 1984 classic Footloose. Surprisingly, this new version is a fitting tribute to the original.
“The moment Idealism gets out of line with conduct, it becomes just another vice.” The face of Ryan Gosling, suddenly ubiquitous on our movie screens, is ideal for that of an actor: almost mask-like and concealing (if seemingly bland), but capable of startling changes in the characters played by this long-time actor. He has, in the last few years, played a neo-Nazi, a conventional protagonist, a get-away criminal, a kindly narcissist and so on, and all of them well.
Leave It on the Floor The esoteric world of drag queens, the transgendered and all-around gays in vogue runway contests is the scene of this inventive “musical” with original songs and music. Alienated, usually impoverished gays, many driven from home, form “clubs” to compete for trophies in dance/music competitions, while establishing new friendships.
It’s rare to see Asian imports who suck since American distributors wouldn’t want to waste their money. This makes the US release of 1911 so perplexing; it really freaking blows.
Director/cameraman/editor Steven Soderbergh is one of our most adventurous moviemakers, ranging from obscure indies to experimental narratives, from big glossy entertainments to serious dramas. All those approaches payoff in sheer craft; shooting his own productions with (mostly) digital cameras at amazing speed.
So awful it isn’t boring and incoherent to the point of near-genius, the new Halloween horror thriller Dream House entraps some A-list players–Daniel Craig (shirtless and clueless), Naomi Watts (what is she doing in this movie?), Rachel Weisz and helmer Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot)–in an addlepated “mystery” that can best be described as chaos in search of frenzy. It’s like watching a slo-mo train wreck: You should turn away but it’s too negatively fascinating.
Film Review / Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Chinese action director Tsui Hark’s martial arts epic, is an unusual melding of the usual wire-fu, slo-mo acrobatics with the detective film genre, and the results feel downright innovative and engrossing. Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs) plays Detective Dee, a former Supreme Court investigator tasked by the soon-to-be inaugurated Empress Wu, the first female emperor, to solve a serious of murders in 689 AD.
Film Review / If someone smart would chop off the last 10 minutes of the crime-thriller/drama Drive, we would have been left with a minor classic of the genre, the “existential” heist movie, full of atmospherics and featuring a near-mythological main character. When he played the right kind of gangster in The Petrified Forest, Humphrey Bogart, an obscure second lead, became a star.
If there were ever a movie that should not be synopsized–story and plot-line given–it is the English-language The Debt, a vast improvement over the Israeli film of the same name several years ago. This version, with more depth and assiduousness to the Israeli characters, is a terrific thriller, full of legitimate surprises, twists and turns that make sense, ones that deepen the story.
Doris Duke Theatre’s monthlong celebration of International Peace Day continues with The Interrupters, the latest project from master documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams). This time, in the span of one year, James examines the epidemic of the youth violence crippling the city of Chicago.
In Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, there’s this spooky old house, rife with secrets, once belonging to a nature illustrator named Blackwood, but now it’s being restored by a hotshot restorer (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes). For all their expertise, they don’t discover a full basement there until the restorer’s moody 10-year-old daughter (Shot-in-Hawaii Just Go With It’s Bailee Madison) stumbles across it and inadvertently unleashes latent dark forces.