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Archive for the ‘Art house fare’ Category

James Gandolfini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

James Gandolfini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

“ENOUGH  SAID”  My rating: B+ (Now showing at the Tivoil)

93 minutes |MPAA rating: PG-13

 Romance movies are supposed to leave viewers feeling that, like the characters on screen, we have just fallen in love.

This is easier when your characters are young, beautiful, and oozing sex appeal.

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener takes a more difficult – but in many ways more rewarding – approach in “Enough Said,” a middle-aged romantic comedy that is unrelentingly wise, witty and, well, wonderful.

We should expect as much. Holofcener (“Walking & Talking,” “Lovely & Amazing,” “Friends with Money,” “Please Give”) specializes in modestly-budgeted, superbly-acted seriocomedies usually set in the world of Los Angeles thirty- and fortysomethings.

Many if not most of her characters are on their second marriages or between relationships. They are basically decent, intermittently foolish individuals. You end up wishing they were your friends.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is Eva, a divorced single mom and professional masseuse. In several brief, sharply limned scenes, we follow Eva through a day’s work, lugging her massage table (which gets heavier with every passing year) in and out of the homes of people rich enough to pay for her services.

In addition to providing a massage, Eva finds herself in the role of reluctant psychotherapist – why won’t these people just shut up, relax, and let Eva’s hands do what they do best?

In the company of her best friend, the psychiatrist Sarah (Toni  Collette, playing the shrink as engagingly neurotic), Eva attends a swanky party where she meets two people who will become important to her.

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Lake Bell main photo

“IN A WORLD” My rating: B- (Opening Sept. 13 at the Tivoli)

93 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Model/actress Lake Bell recently posed for the cover of New York magazine wearing only body paint. But don’t hate her because she’s beautiful.

Because Bell is also a filmmaker with a wicked sense of humor. She makes her feature writing/directing debut with “In A World,” a screwball comedy set in contemporary Hollywood, specifically in the seething  subculture of voiceover actors.

Lake Bell...cover girl

Lake Bell…cover girl

As if her duties behind the camera weren’t enough, she also stars in the film.  Bell is something of an anomaly – a very attractive woman who seizes every opportunity to make herself look dorky and drab. Her self-effacing mien doesn’t seem to be a studied pose. From what I can gather she’s genuinely  goofy, a modern-day Carol Lombard whose screen presence can dish high-octane satire while remaining absolutely lovable.

Here Bell plays Carol, a child of Hollywood who conducts voice classes. Among her clientele are  a few actors and a lot of helium-voiced professional women whose careers have stalled because they sound like sexy infants.

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Barbara Sukowa as Hannah Arendt

Barbara Sukowa as Hannah Arendt

“HANNAH ARENDT” My rating: B+ (Opens on July 26 at the Tivoli)

113 minutes | No MPAA rating

Intellectual integrity hardly seems like the stuff of scintillating cinema…but then I wouldn’t have thought an 11th –century nun who composed chants for her cloistered sisters would be terribly interesting, either.

But the combination of writer/director director Margarethe von Trotta and star Barbara Sukowa can ignite even the most unlikely subject matter. We saw it a couple of years ago with the Medieval drama “Vision,” and lightning strikes again with their most recent collaboration, “Hannah Arendt.”

Arendt (1906-1975) was a political theorist and a Jew who fled Germany and its Nazi culture, immigrated to America and became an academic. In 1961 she was assigned by The New Yorker to cover the war crimes trial in Israel of Nazi SS bigwig Adolf Eichmann, who had overseen the logistics of deporting hundreds of thousands of European Jews to extermination camps.

Adolf Eichman on trial

Adolf Eichmann on trial

Arendt traveled to Jerusalem expecting to encounter a figure of monumental evil. The man she saw isolated in a glass booth (to prevent assassination attempts) she described as “a ghost who happens to have a cold.”

Eichmann viewed himself as a methodical worker who did his best to complete the job assigned him. Indeed, the prisoner was indignant at finding himself on trial…he believed that in following orders he was doing the right and moral thing.

To describe the defendant Arendt coined a phrase that has entered the modern lexicon: “The banality of evil.” She argued that war criminals are rarely psychopaths; most of them are just ordinary people trying to fit in or get ahead.

Upon publication Arendt’s report unleashed a firestorm of controversy. Some accused her of letting Eichmann – indeed all war criminals – off the hook. Others took particular umbrage at her assertion that the terrors of the Holocaust might have been limited had Jewish leaders in Europe not take a conciliatory approach to the Nazis.

Hate mail was only the beginning of the grief the 56-year-old Arendt endured.  Lifelong friends disowned her. She was accused of anti-Semitism. Her academic career was thrown into jeopardy. Israeli security goons showed up to “suggest” she never publish her reportage in book form.

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Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnston

Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson

“DRINKING BUDDIES” My rating: C+ (Opening Sept. 13 at the Alamo Draft House)

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Drinking Buddies” is not a romantic comedy, despite the presence of some usually-funny players and a setup that sounds like classic rom-com.

Instead, Joe Swanberg’s largely-improvised feature is a gentle, unforced study both of several  authentic-feeling characters and of a way of life.

Kate (Olivia Wilde) is the events planner at a Chicago craft brewery. Her best bud is one of the brewers, Luke (Jake Johnson).

Both are in romantic relationships with other people (she with a recording engineer played by Ron Livingston, he with a special ed teacher played by Anna Kendrick). But it’s all too obvious that Kate and Luke are cut from the same slacker cloth.  They banter on the job, share lunch, and hang after hours.

Their idea of a good time is going directly from the brewery to a bar to suck down pints, play pool and talk – although their repertoire of discussion subjects seems pretty limited. They may have intellectual inner lives, but they’re not indulging them in public.

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Museum Hours 1“MUSEUM HOURS”  My rating: B (Opens Sept.  6 at the Tivoli)

106 minutes | No MPAA rating

At first glance one might mistake  Jem Cohen’s “Museum Hours” for an art-school prank, a feature film fiendishly devised to torment those moviegoers with  short attention spans.

It’s certainly not a conventional drama. At times it feels more like a documentary. And the plot, what there is of one, can be summed up in a couple of sentences.

But give this gorgeously photographed picture and chance and you might just find yourself seduced.

The setting is Vienna, particularly the grand old Kunsthistorisches Museum, repository of one of the world’s great art collections. The 60something Johann (Bobby Sommer) works as a guard at the Kunsthistorisches. As a young man, he tells us, he managed struggling rock bands. Now he’s traded the noisy life for one of whispers and silence. Maybe that’s why the film has no musical score.

One day Johann offers assistance to a visitor who seems to be lost and confused.  This is Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara), who has flown in from Montreal because of a family emergency. Anne is the only surviving relation of her cousin, who lies in a coma in a nearby hospital.  Apparently she’s expected to hang around Vienna until the cousin dies, then tie up the loose ends.  (She may even have to decide whether to pull the plug on life support, though that would be the topic of a different, more topical film).

Johann befriends Anne, serving as her translator in dealings with the doctors and escorting her around Vienna.

Aha, you say. A Golden Years love story.

Nope. Johann is gay. They’re just friends.

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lifeguard 1“THE LIFEGUARD” My rating: C  (Opening wide on Aug. 30)

98 minutes | MPAA rating: R

For ages Hollywood has thrived on lurid tales of older men and younger women, so in the name of fair play we oughta give a pass to “The Lifeguard,” a film about a 29-year-old woman who has an affair with a 16-year-old skateboarder.

Liz W. Garcia’s debut feature (after several years writing and directing for episodic TV) wants to be taken seriously – but falls apart in the execution. Her screenplay introduces interesting, even provocative ideas, then undermines them with a general aura of seediness and a lack of direction.

Kristen Bell is Leigh, who as the film begins is a reporter in NYC.  But in the wake of a failed romance and a feeling that her life isn’t going the way she planned, she returns to her small home town in Connecticut, moves in with Mom (Amy Madigan) and Dad, and reclaims the lifeguarding job that she gave up a decade earlier.

“I need to take time out from my life,” she explains.

Don’t we all?

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Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck

Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck

“AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS” My rating: C+ (Opening August 30 at the Tivoli and the Rio)

96 minutes| MPAA rating: R

Like its title, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” tries too damn hard.

The difference between effectiveness and affectation is often a matter of degree, and for my money David Lowery’s Sundance hit  always lays things on just a little too thick.

Or perhaps not thick enough.

In this norish crime drama/romance Lowery apparently is trying to channel Terernce Malick, particularly the early Malick of “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven,” both of which took the form of dreamlike folk ballads. 

Like virtually all Malick movies, “Ain’t Them Bodies…” relies on voiceover narration by one of the characters (in this case a prison escapee played by Casey Affleck).  And the film unfolds in a classic small American town so frozen in time (old trucks, flower print dresses, denim work shirts, cowboy boots) that I was taken aback late in the story when one character produced a cell phone. Like a Malick effort, the movie has been photographed (by Bradford Young) so as to discover the beauty in human faces,  brown Texas landscapes, and even old buildings losing their peeling paint. (more…)

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blue blanchett“BLUE JASMINE” My rating: B (Now showing wide)

98 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Tragedies require great performances. Otherwise they’d be unbearable.

Lucky for Woody Allen, then, that “Blue Jasmine” stars Cate Blanchett giving a performance with Oscar written all over it.

“Blue Jasmine” is one of Allen’s “straight” movies, though it does have a few moments of bleak humor.  Theater dweebs will immediately recognize it as a modern updating of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  Our Blanche Dubois stand-in is Jasmine (Blanchett), the former pampered wife of a Wall Street mover-and-shaker who has gone to prison as part of a Bernie Madoff-ish scandal.

Sally Hawkins, Louis C.K.

Sally Hawkins, Louis C.K.

Now the brittle, babbling but still weirdly glamorous Jasmine (real name, Jeanette) has washed up penniless in the San Francisco apartment of her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins).  She’s dependent on the kindness of strangers (Ginger is kind almost to the point of being a punching bag), and should be groveling with gratitude. But, no, Jasmine puts on airs, complains about having had to sell her furs and jewels, sneers at her now-proletarian living conditions, and winces painfully at the racket generated by her two young nephews.

“Blue Jasmine” is a curious piece. We start out utterly contemptuous of  this fallen trophy wife whose husband’s crooked dealings left hundreds of thousands of investors (among them sister Ginger) high and dry. So now she has to get a job as a dentist’s receptionist and sleep on a couch? Serves her right, right?

But so powerful is Blanchett’s peformance that by the end we are (against our own good moral judgment) practically rooting for her to hook up with a rich, unsuspecting guy who can maintain her in the style to which she has become accustomed.

Which is to say that this is some great acting. (more…)

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spectacular-now-tickets“THE SPECTACULAR NOW” My rating: B+ (Opens Aug. 23 at the Cinemark Palace)

95 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Movie teenagers bear about as much resemblance to real kids as movie cops do to real police work.

Which makes “The Spectacular Now” a wonderful aberration, a film that feels fresh and authentic and injects new life into a worn-out genre.

Director James Ponsoldt’s Sundance hit is a love story but it’s also an insightful personality study of two young people who find in each other something each desperately needs.

Sutter Keely (a terrific Miles Teller) is a popular guy at his high school, a funny, friendly senior whose self-effacing humor and deadpan wit suggest he’s far smarter than his terrible grades would indicate. (Imagine the love child of Vince Vaughn and a “Say Anything”-era John Cusack.) He’s popular with both his fellow students and his exasperated teachers.

Unfortunately, his charm masks the fact that he’s an alcoholic-in-training, getting blotto with alarming regularity.

Sutter has a steady squeeze (Brie Larson) who appreciates him for his warmth and fun-loving ways but recognizes that there’s no future with such an unmotivated slacker. With graduation looming (it looks like he won’t be getting a diploma), she tells Sutter that it’s over, though he’ll always be her favorite ex-boyfriend.

Then he’s thrown together with wallflower Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), who on her morning paper delivery route finds Sutter sleeping off a bender on someone’s front lawn. Having misplaced his car, he asks for a ride.

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jobs-movie“JOBS” My rating: C+ (Opening wide on Aug. 16)

122 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“You’re good. Damn good,” a colleague tells young computer visionary Steve Jobs early in the new bio-pic “Jobs.”

“But you’re an asshole.”

Yup.

“Jobs” isn’t a bad movie. And if you’re looking for an affectionate recreation of the early days of the personal computer industry – when things we now take for granted (like a writing program with changeable fonts) were hailed as major breakthroughs – it’s geekily engaging.

Jobs ashtonBut Joshua Michael Stern’s film is painted in broad strokes and rarely gets behind the mysterious and mercurial surface of its central character. The late Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs comes off as an arrogant, self-centered visionary who touched millions of lives through his products but alienated many of his nearest and dearest.

That the movie never really connects on an emotional level is not the fault of Ashton Kutcher, who gives a perfectly acceptable performance and who eerily recreates Jobs’ skinny, turtlenecked frame and loosey-goosey slouch walk. The problem is that Matt Whiteley’s screenplay never quite decides what it thinks of this polarizing figure.

“Jobs” begins in the mid-70s with our protagonist a barefoot dropout hanging around the Reed College campus, follows him through the creation and rise of Apple, through his being fired by the board of directors in 1985, and his eventual return to the failing company in 1996 to retake the reins and spearhead Apple’s resurgence,  one of the greatest turnarounds in business history.

Actually, the movie ends in the late ‘90s…there’s no mention of iconic products like the iPhone or the iPad or of the long fight with cancer that left Jobs dead in 2010 at age 56.

But, then, “Jobs” leaves out so much. It’s almost as if it were written with the assumption that we already know most of the important details of Jobs’ life and work.  The results feel superficial, unformed.

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