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Archive for the ‘Art house fare’ Category

Diane Krueger

“IN THE FADE”  My rating: B+ (Available in digital formats on April 17)

106 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“In the Fade” may get a bit fuzzy around the edges, but its center is as solid as an anvil.

German actress Diane Kruger is utterly compelling  in writer/director Fatih Akin’s  tale of a woman attempting to come to terms with the terrorist killing of her husband and son. Even when the film threatens to bog down in courtroom cliches, Krueger’s fierce/fragile performance holds us in its grasp.

Small wonder the role won her best actress honors at last spring’s Cannes Film Festival. (“In the Fade” also won a Golden Globe as best foreign language film, which raises the question of why it hasn’t gotten a theatrical run here in Kansas City…but that’s another story.)

The picture begins with cellphone footage of the German prison wedding of convicted drug dealer  Nuri (Numan Acar) to party-girl hottie Katja (Kruger).

It then cuts to the couple’s post-prison life.  Years later we find them blissfully wed,  parents to six-year-old son Rocco (Rafael Santana), and operating a thriving small business in Homburg. Nuri’s criminal past is a distant memory. They appear to be model citizens. (more…)

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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?

(more…)

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