Woody Allen’s forty-fourth film, “Magic In The Moonlight,” may be the seventy-eight-year-old writer-director’s strangest in ages. It’s the first movie of his I can remember where all of the actors seem to be playing in the same scenes, and they’re largely idiotic. It’s most pronounced in terrible dramas like “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” but the syndrome is similar in even more accomplished work like “Blue Jasmine,” where there are scenes with multiple actors who seem completely stranded, or visiting from another movie down the hall at the multiplex. So this period trifle has at least that going for it, plus a lead actor, Colin Firth, who doesn’t seem to be channeling a single shred of Allen’s own on-screen persona. (The character’s self-proclaimed “genius” is never demonstrated by his actions or bluster.) As for the screenplay, it’s a full-on fumble. Doddering, even, and distant from any representation of plausible human behavior. Read the rest of this entry »
Prolific Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg continues to explore his own backyard in “Happy Christmas,” or more to the point, his own home, a cost-effective location for his first feature released since “Drinking Buddies.” One of those buddies, Anna Kendrick, moves into the newest comedy-drama and continues to drink. And drink. Swanberg plays Jeff, a film director whose wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey), is writing a novel, and whose younger sister, Jenny (Kendrick), shows up on their doorstep after a messy and massively deserved breakup. Lena Dunham plays a friend of Jenny’s, and Mark Webber plays a curiously attractive drug dealer whom Kelly plants lips upon. Working in his customary improv style, with cinematographer Ben Richardson (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) repeating the originated-on-film style of “Drinking Buddies,” Swanberg scores sly points beneath the surface emotional ruckus and the elevated conversational wordplay. Read the rest of this entry »
“This feeling of solitude is unfair! I demand to fall in love, too.” Michel Gondry’s latest low-fi gallimaufry of incessant innovation and simple, surrealistic fancy, “Mood Indigo,” is based on a book supposedly known to most French children, Boris Vian’s “L’ecume des jours” (known in Stanley Chapman’s British translation as “Froth on the Daydream”). It’s a romance atop romances with a star-crossed couple: Chloé (Audrey Tautou) falls ill when a flower starts to grow in her lungs, and rich, lonely bachelor Colin (Romain Duris) finds he can keep her alive by surrounding her always with fresh flowers. Then heap stop-motion, dream sequences, musical passages, food play, Duke Ellington… Keep heaping. Read the rest of this entry »
Fast-paced and amiable but way too broad, Daniel Cohen’s “Le Chef” (2012) throws together star chef Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno), a brand name with his own restaurant who can’t get along with his investors, with a younger, self- taught chef Jacky (Michaël Youn), who leans heavily on the chemistry set. Lightly sauced reflections on French cuisine bounce off implausible notions of human behavior and far too much irksome “cuteness.” Or maybe that’s what makes “Le Chef” so French? Read the rest of this entry »
The greatest opening chord in movie history is followed by one of the great cut-up comedies in “A Hard Day’s Night,” combining the immense charm of the young quartet with the intense invention of a young Richard Lester. It’s one second, two seconds at the most, twannggg, and the screen floods with the Beatles, in trim, natty suits and thin ties and the, yes, Beatles haircuts, being pursued up a London side street by a loving, crushing crowd of fans. Those opening two minutes forty-five seconds are one of the most fantastic bursts of joy in any movie I know. And then, you know what? You still get to enjoy the sweetly absurd comedy of the rest of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Plus: weren’t they such pretty, lovely boys? (Even in the company of their friend, the cleanest “clean old man” of them all.) Read the rest of this entry »
Beneath Clint Eastwood’s easygoing, even somnolent direction of “Jersey Boys” lies a wittily constructed screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, based on their book to the 2005 Broadway musical (Brickman’s other co-writing credits include “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Manhattan Murder Mystery”). But the small strokes of dialogue and rhyming bits of business are smothered by deadly pacing, among other things, including the whisper of “Goodfellas” at its back. The latest of eighty-four-year-old Eastwood’s late career surprises harks back to a filmmaking era that never existed, a backlot-driven, quiet, even spectral elongation of the terse framing and blocking of his mentor, Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”). The combination of the gentility of the settings, sometimes-slapstick comedy, shameless profanity, casually staged musical numbers and erratic casting make for an eccentric, underwhelming, but intermittently eye-opening failure. Read the rest of this entry »
“Jackpot” (Arme Riddere, 2011) is capable, candy-colored, often giddily gruesome Euro-action from Norway, replete with lottery winnings, double-crosses, discreet vivisection and a shootout in a strip club called “Pink Heaven” with a single survivor whom the police want explanations from. Based on an outline by best-selling crime novelist Jo Nesbø, Magnus Martens’ black, deadpan pulp conjures earlier movies that range from “A Shallow Grave” to “A Simple Plan” to “Fargo” to “Pulp Fiction” while still offering its own toothsome zing beneath frisky homage. Read the rest of this entry »
(Oh Boy, 2012) A hit and prize-winner on its home turf in Germany, “A Coffee in Berlin” is a wan but often winning slacker comedy, with gentle, unintentional parallels to the feel of Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s “Frances Ha.” (“Francis Ja,” anyone?) Or maybe Jim Jarmusch in the 1990s? German comedy does not often travel well, but “Coffee” looks as slick as any other recent film imported from Germany, with gorgeous, glassy black-and-white cinematography. Young, floppy-locked beaten-down Niko (Tom Schilling, “The Baader Meinhof Complex”) is on the ropes after his girlfriend dumps him and his father finds he’d dropped out of college two years ago to “think.” He’s not nearly young Werther: just a young ditherer. Read the rest of this entry »
Gillian Robespierre’s canny, taut “Obvious Child,” a distinctly contemporary comedy, is rich in people talk and how some people swear and how modern audiences laugh, shocked, with gratitude. And lead actress Jenny Slate? Here comes a great comedy star in a smart, conversational, bluntly funny, certainly subversive romcom. Simply: the plot pivots on an unwanted pregnancy.
At Sundance 2014, “Obvious Child” was that rare, total surprise for me, a press screening I ducked into after Park City, Utah’s insane traffic problems prevented me from getting to yet another movie across town. Didn’t know any of the names, Brooklyn, thirtysomething romantic comedy, just over eighty minutes. Everyone’s always hoping for the platonic ideal of what Woody Allen represented in romantic comedy in the 1970s. And the title? What on earth did that title mean?
“So you’re a ‘Graceland’ guy, not a ‘Rhythm of the Saints’ guy,” lead actress Jenny Slate says when we meet, laughing, sitting alongside her near-lookalike, co-writer-director Gillian Robespierre, who directed Slate in a short version of the material in 2009. “Paul Simon song,” Robespierre says, nodding. Read the rest of this entry »
It must have been a good week to start sniffing glue again. Jesus, I wept. I made no friends with my laughter at a packed preview of “22 Jump Street.” That 112 minutes honestly comprised the most sustained amount of laughing I’ve done in years without being held down against my will and tickled. I’m not sure what hit me so hard—it could be the day of the week or the time of the day—but I became the incarnation of the legendary Inappropriate Laugher. (I was surprised no one near me moved to a different seat.) Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller found funny bones I didn’t know I had. In box-office success, the team’s roster of the past half-decade is stellar: “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs” (2009), “21 Jump Street” (2012), “The Lego Movie” and now this rambunctiously generous, relentlessly goofball mass of laughter. The visual style is loose and reaction-shot-friendly; a quick measure of how adroit the directorial team is with comedy timing at knowing when to hold and when to cut is how they weight reaction shots by Nick Offerman and Ice Cube. It’s a bit of bliss to realize that they’re simply after the funny in live-action, as well as in “The Lego Movie,” where animation requires more strategic planning. To do both all-family and hard-R scatology, and to do both well? That’s a rare protean gift among studio filmmakers today. Read the rest of this entry »