A documentary on one of the more enchanting and tragic figures of the world of ballet, Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil le Clercq affirms the talent of its subject but assumes a fawning interest in her. Failing to establish enough of a cleanly delineated backdrop or emotional throughline to connect to a general audience, the frustrating result is a hopelessly insular work that leaves those who aren't dance history majors on the outside of this at times beautiful but otherwise entirely tedious bauble, their faces pressed against the glass. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Kino Lorber, unrated, 91 minutes)
The career of every filmmaker and actor, if they sustain any longevity, is peppered with various levels of success and failure. And while he's had greater successes in other films and genres, among the films for which Kevin Costner is most warmly remembered are a quartet of sports movies — Bull Durham, For Love of the Game, Tin Cup and of course the iconic Field of Dreams, celebrating its 25th anniversary later this very month.
Affectionate reminiscences of that filmography inform director Ivan Reitman's new dramedy, Draft Day. But the more recent and germane comparison may be Moneyball, another smart, nuanced and confident sports film that didn't chase the drama of on-field action, but instead used its sport as a backdrop for a complicated, adult tale of striving and innovation. Draft Day isn't nearly in the same class, and its aims are a notch or two lower — it's less a disquisition on beta-masculinity than an engaging extension of the National Football League brand. But it works far more than it doesn't, connecting with pleasure and heart. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (Lionsgate/Summit, PG-13, 110 minutes)
He's not yet 40, but director David Gordon Green has successfully juggled an interesting collection of studio comedies like Pineapple Express, The Sitter and Your Highness with more esoteric and independent fare like All the Real Girls and Prince Avalanche. His 10th feature film, Joe, is an adaptation of Larry Brown's gritty yet lyrical novel of the same name, and stars 17-year-old Tye Sheridan as an impressionable kid who, desperate for some adult guidance and attention, finds an unlikely mentor in the form of Nicolas Cage's ex-con title character. I recently had a chance to speak to Green one-on-one, about the film, casting and working with non-professional actors, the keys to a good Terrence Malick impersonation and his next movie, Manglehorn. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here.
A well-meaning documentary that advocates for a broader societal acceptance of addiction as a chronic disease of the brain, The Anonymous People leads with its considerable heart, but can't summon the sort of order and focus necessary to convert generalized sympathy into stronger lasting memory and impulse for action. Flitting to and fro, and alighting on a wide range of related but not always smoothly integrated topics — from the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous and biased drug infraction prison sentencing to a series of testimonials from public figures and arguments for greater health care cost controls for addicts — the movie carries an important message, but too often feels like a free-association sermon for the choir. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Kino Lorber, unrated, 102 minutes)
If the first installment of Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac blended the farcical and tragic in a manner that underscored the folly of thinking one could ever put biological appetites neatly away, in a little box on the bookshelf, Nymphomaniac: Volume II wanders further into the darkened forest of human desire and compulsion. Part wild stallion and part brutish gorilla, it's a formidable and inherently contradictory cinematic disquisition — it agitates against over-analysis, even as itself it analyzes how unspoken yearnings bend and twist behavior to their will. Above all, while not without its faults, it's a reminder that the world of film needs taskmaster provocateurs like von Trier, pushing back against tidiness and challenging audiences. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (Magnolia, unrated, 123 minutes)
Writer-director Eliza Hittman's striking debut film, It Felt Like Love, tells the story of an awkward 14-year-old Brooklyn girl (Gina Piersanti) who falls into emulating the sexual exploits of her more experienced best friend (Giovanna Salimeni), with mounting peril. I recently had a chance to speak to Hittman one-on-one, about her film, non-traditional casting, adolescent sexual deceit and gamesmanship, and more. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
A certain tension between emotion and education again manifests in Bears, the fifth theatrical nature documentary release via a specialty arm of distributor Disney, who has carved out a nice niche pegged to annual Earth Day celebrations. Extraordinarily intimate and engaging throughout, African Cats co-directors Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey's stirringly captured movie unlocks a sincere sense of awe and reverence within viewers' hearts, even as it frustrates an audience looking for a bit more. For the full, original review, from Screen Daily, click here. (DisneyNature, G, 78 minutes)
Seventeen-year-old Tye Sheridan made his acting debut in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, playing one of Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain's sons. The next year, he co-starred opposite Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon in Jeff Nichols' Mud. Now, in David Gordon Green's Joe, adapted from a novel by Larry Brown, Sheridan adds another acting heavyweight to his roster of co-stars, starring opposite Nicolas Cage's ex-con title character as an eager-to-work kid looking for roots not provided by his own itinerant family and alcoholic father. I recently had a chance to speak to Texas native Sheridan one-on-one, about his new movie, the key to a good Malick impersonation and what he thinks of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
Most apocalyptic thrillers exist in large measure for the sizzle, or are at least invested in paying off some fantastical doomsday conceit. But Goodbye World, in which a group of old college friends and lovers of the idealistic and liberal persuasion (including Adrien Grenier and Kerry Bishé, above) find shelter at a remote country cabin in the days and weeks after a crippling cyber-attack, is something quite different. An unusual hybrid of The Big Chill, The Trigger Effect and Into the Wild, director Denis Henry Hennelly's film exists largely apart from the investigation of cause, arguments about culpability or even the trials of survival. It's kind of an incidental apocalyptic drama. So even if the movie unravels in the end, there's still enough that's stirring and original here to capture and hold the interest of adventurous indie filmgoers.
A low-budget, distinctively character-rooted work that premiered at last year's Los Angeles Film Festival, Goodbye World was never going to be confused with any of the raft of other apocalyptic movies that have hit the big screen over the past year-and-a-half. But while it doesn't become completely overblown, suffice it to say that the manner in which the film resolves its exploration of a community riven by fear comes off as unrealistic, and halfhearted to boot. Certain bits feel designed to pay off and salve investor anxieties — to bend and twist Goodbye World into the shape of the very movies that it otherwise consciously avoids aping. And that's a shame, really, because it's the other, smaller stuff that sticks with you. Just as in life. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (Samuel Goldwyn/Phase 4 Films, unrated, 101 minutes)
If we're keeping tabs on the evolving filmography of ex-mixed martial arts fighter and future The Expendabelles centerpiece Gina Carano, In the Blood, from director John Stockwell, slots considerably below Haywire, her at once lithe and bruising collaboration with Stephen Soderbergh. And yet there's still a certain ramshackle appeal to the film, a starchy, Taken-meets-Turistas revenge picture which could just as easily be titled Woman on Fire. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Anchor Bay, R, 109 minutes)
An extremely low-boil wartime farce that contents itself to wring quiet smiles and silent laughs from viewers, A Farewell To Fools unfolds in Nazi-occupied Romania in 1944, where a group of pious townspeople try to prevail upon the town idiot to sacrifice himself for their benefit after a German soldier is discovered murdered. While it doesn't exactly pull any muscles reaching for unerring period-piece credibility, director Bogdan Dreyer's film, starring Gérard Depardieu and Harvey Keitel, more or less works as a sort of lightly affected, darkly comedic parable. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Monterey Media/Shoreline Entertainment, PG-13, 84 minutes)
Is Donald Rumsfeld, the charismatically cantankerous and contrarian former Secretary of Defense who, under President George W. Bush, presided over disastrous Iraq War policy and the torture of enemy combatants and other foreign prisoners, a dyed-in-the-wool military adventurist or a cog-in-the-machine bureaucrat and incidental prosecutor? Documentarian Errol Morris spent more than 34 hours interviewing him for his superb new film, The Unknown Known, and he still isn't sure. I recently had a chance to chat with the Oscar-winning filmmaker and, wearing a light green sweater and a wry smile, Morris spoke deliberately, as is his wont, about his movie, its elusive subject, the art of interviewing and his first foray into fictional narrative filmmaking, set to star Bryan Cranston and Naomi Watts. The conversation is excerpted over at Paste, so click here for the read.
There will be a time when young, aspiring indie filmmakers return predominantly to shooting what they know, which will give us a surge in chatty, beer-soaked navel-gazing — a quality that in many ways would seem almost radical in today's cinematic environment. This is not yet that time, however, as the extraordinarily derivative, forthrightly titled and essentially pointless Alien Abduction confirms. Eschewing more sophisticated and higher-degree-of-difficulty moodiness for lots of panicked thrashing about, this found-footage horror tale is an exercise in well-intentioned tedium. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (IFC Midnight, unrated, 82 minutes)
A kind of true-life, slow-motion disaster flick for the NPR set, director Rachel Boynton's Big Men is an engaging documentary that roots down into the very human and relatable effects of the discovery of a huge African oil deposit upon a disparate variety of characters, from the penthouse to the pavement. Assaying the mores and motivations of all these dreamers and schemers, the film throws a spotlight on human fallibility, and all the shades of grey that color the geopolitical world. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Abramorama, unrated, 99 minutes)
An indie horror movie that makes decent use of its real-life setting, but otherwise runs aground fairly early in its already concise running time, unable to come up with enough incidents to generate any legitimate sustained suspense, Happy Camp represents one of the particular perils of a low-budget, calling card-type film. Piecemeal, the scene-to-scene work of young multi-hyphenates Josh Anthony, Anne Taylor and Michael Barbuto is fine. But absent a story that generates any sort of clearly defined stakes or rooting audience interest, the movie elicits more of a yawn than any lasting impression. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Gravitas Ventures/Flower Films, unrated, 74 minutes)
Darren Aronofsky's Biblical-based epic Noah, starring Russell Crowe, opened in the top spot at the box office in its debut weekend, pulling in $43.7 million and easily outstripping other wide opener Sabotage, which slotted seventh, with just under $5.3 million. In its second weekend, young adult fiction adaptation Divergent pulled in $25.6 million, pushing its domestic haul to $94.4 million.
Rounding out the top 10 were Muppets Most Wanted, with $11.28 million; animated family film Mr. Peabody & Sherman, with $9.07 million; God's Not Dead, with $8.8 million; Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, with $8.54 million; the aforementioned Sabotage, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; Need for Speed, with $4.23 million; 300: Rise of an Empire with $4.21 million; and Liam Neeson's Non-Stop, with $4.01 million. Meanwhile, in its eighth weekend of release, critical and commercial juggernaut The Lego Movie finally slipped out of the top 10, pulling in just over $3 million while crossing the $400 million cumulative mark.
"Which way do you think you’ll get the most out of my story — believing me or not believing me?" asks the central character in writer-director Lars von Trier's new film. She's an emotionally broken, physically beaten sex addict recounting her life less ordinary to an ascetic bachelor with a passion for fly-fishing, but the words might as well be from the filmmaker himself. In Nymphomaniac: Volume I, he's inviting viewers to come along on a lurid trip, to submit to a survey of longing (emotional as much as sexual) threaded with intellectual riffs big and small, and allusions to dozens of other works.
Despite almost three decades of work in the feature realm as a provocateur of the highest order, von Trier has somehow avoided having his surname turned into an adjective, unlike a number of fellow outlier auteurs. But most of his films have achieved a unique synthesis of the philosophical and confrontational, the clinical and compassionate. In this regard, Nymphomaniac: Volume I is no different. A rigorous and riveting cogitation on sexual liberation, gender double standards, love, lust, sociopathy and any number of the filmmaker's other obsessions, it's a personal work that touches upon universal themes and ideas in a way that is inescapably… von Trier-ian? For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (Magnolia, unrated, 110 minutes)
It may seem difficult to fathom, especially given the degree to which so much present day pop culture resembles a fishing lure designed to catch their capricious attention, but there was a time when teenagers didn't exist. Sure, there were actual people who were 14, 15 and 16 years old, but they weren't a demographic entity, to be either pursued or pilloried. Director Matt Wolf's fascinating new documentary Teenage, then, casts an eye backwards, to that time and the ensuing decades. The result — an engaging collagist work assembled from rare archival material, filmed portraits and voiceover lifted from early 20th century diary entries — is an impressionistic rumination on the birth and, well, development (let's not say maturation) of youth culture. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (Oscilloscope, unrated, 77 minutes)
The title Happy Camp conjures feelings of a comedy — either an ironically named satire, or perhaps some Pitch Perfect-type summer-getaway ensemble where Glee fans labor to upstage one another against a competitive backdrop. In actuality, though, this new found-footage-framed horror thriller takes its name from the real-life small town, nestled up against the California-Oregon border, which lends the movie its setting. I recently had a chance to speak to multi-hyphenate collaborators (and offscreen couple) Josh Anthony and Anne Taylor about the film, their inspiration and work together and the involvement of Drew Barrymore as an executive producer. The slightly spoilerish conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so watch the movie first on VOD if you want to remain surprised, then click here.
The chance to portray twins or at-odds characters in a single film is catnip for actors of a certain level of ambition, though not without potential pitfalls. The impulse to chew scenery or present grand differentiation is often difficult to resist. Enemy, though, which reteams Jake Gyllenhaal with Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve (though it was actually shot before that film), finds the actor trading in similarly subdued and thoughtful tones as he did in last year's well received kidnapping drama. And, adapted from the late Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago's 2004 novel The Double, the film offers up more than just a meaty pair of roles for Gyllenhaal. A woozy, mesmeric, danger-infused rumination on identity that triggers tripwires of personal panic and awakened sexual compulsion, Enemy is like a cold glass of water to the face of cinematic formalism. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (A24 Films, R, 90 minutes)
A harmless if largely uninspired musical comedy offering that casts Jim Henson's puppet creations on a globe-trotting adventure, Muppets Most Wanted shrugs, sings, wings and winks its way through a caper narrative, figuring or hoping that simply consistently acknowledging its shambolic narrative will somehow translate as wit. A lesser effort than its predecessor in every way, this cheerful confection will largely appease younger viewers but leave older audiences unstirred. For the full, original review, from Screen Daily, click here. (Disney, PG, 108 minutes)
A little motivation goes a long way in Need for Speed, a technically polished but narratively bloated and muddled adaptation of the bestselling videogame racing series of the same name, starring Aaron Paul and helmed by Scott Waugh, who previously co-directed 2012's Act of Valor. Alternately slick and over-plotted, the movie has a couple isolated pockets of cathartic connection, but tries to awkwardly thread a too-fine needle of dumb-fun revenge and square-jawed memorialization. In its needy and needless reach for gravitas, the movie irreparably drains a lot of momentum from what could be an energizing, fun, diversionary romp. For the full, original review, from Screen Daily, click here. (Disney/DreamWorks, PG-13, 130 minutes)
"Ever since the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding thing in the 1990s, I've always loved ice skating," confesses Alice Eve. It's a pleasant enough Los Angeles morning, but small talk about the recent Winter Olympics is entirely appropriate given the downright chilly vibe that Eve's latest film gives off. A tightly wound, character-rooted crime drama in the vein of A Simple Plan, director Tze Chun's Cold Comes the Night is one of those crisp, engaging independent films that rather bewilderingly and frustratingly slip through the theatrical cracks every now and again, and at the heart of it all is Eve's mesmerizingly rundown performance, a thing of damaged grace. I had a chance to chat with her recently, about the movie, what Bob Dylan song shaped the character, her career and more. The conversation is excerpted over at Paste, so click here for the read.
Melanie Papalia has been stalked by a web-chatroom killer before, in the execrable Smiley. In the inventive low-budget horror thriller The Den, though, she has a much better vehicle, and a starring role to boot. The Canadian-born actress plays a graduate student who undertakes a study on the eponymous video-chat site, witnesses a gruesome murder via webcam, and soon finds herself trapped in a twisted game in which she and loved ones are targeted for the same grisly fate. I recently had a chance to speak with Papalia one-on-one, about the film, bad Skype connections, ChatRoulette nudity, Uwe Boll, and how John Travolta would have pronounced her name at the Oscars. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here.
The third and biggest-budgeted sword-and-sandal action movie to arrive this year, 300: Rise of an Empire unfolds in 480 B.C., but it might as well be "K.C.," or Known Commodity. Such is the laid track that this punishingly brutal follow-up to Zack Snyder's influential 300, which told the story of the battle of Thermopylae and a group of Spartan soldiers' valiant but ultimately futile defense against a marauding army of Persian invaders, unfolds upon. With its low-angle shots, ominous thunderclaps, glistening pecs and bellowed celebrations of freedom, Rise of an Empire peddles a very particular, fetishized form of masculine hero worship in telling the story of a concurrent naval campaign, but all in service of little more than a state-of-the-art showcase for unremitting violence.
Snyder and Kurt Johnstad's script, based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller after the first film's success, is a mélange of familiar bits and half-cooked motivations ladled over graphic bloodletting. There is absolutely a place for this sort of faux-historical entertainment — for bombastic films of representational value — but Rise of an Empire lacks the characterizations and intrigue to make it work. This film could be fun, or it could be grisly and of more consequence. Instead, it's like watching someone else play a videogame. For the full, original review, from Screen Daily, click here. (Warner Bros., R, 103 minutes)