My first exposure to Jim Jarmusch’s magical “Only Lovers Left Alive” was in thrall to jetlag, and I got its vivid, if woozy sense of the circularity of life, art, dance and the revolution of 45rpm records against the desolation of Detroit, Tangier and a musician’s gear-decked digs. What goes around goes around. And goes around. Five months later, clear-headed, early in the morning, his romance between two undead lovers of words and music, Eve and Adam (Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston), took the shape of something better, greater, and perhaps the bard of the Lower East Side’s most personal and finest film. Superficially a vampire story—and one that portrays the soft rush of ingested blood like the hard rush of injected heroin—“Only Lovers Left Alive” is also a moving meditation on shifting roles in long-term relationships, on “zombie” culture outside the cluttered, cloistered lair, on the eternal promise and disappointment of youth. Read the rest of this entry »
Based on Alice Munro’s short story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage,” Liza Johnson’s indie drama-comedy “Hateship Loveship” shows a side of Kristen Wiig that’s always been in plain sight. Under the exterior of a comedienne, with crack timing, has always nestled the heart of a Serious Actress. She invests. But as Johanna, a shy woman introduced into a complicated Iowa household as a caregiver, Wiig is surrounded by an all-star cast of short-story-style eccentrics and needy, damaged souls that outshine her crabbed performance. Ordinariness doesn’t suit Wiig: Johnson’s understated progression of incidents in her story seems hardly to have a dramatic pulse.
What was it Senator Franken’s Stuart Smalley character used to say? “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” In the amiable, heartfelt “Cuban Fury,” Nick Frost takes on the “good enough” mantle. As Bruce Garrett, a large-sized man with an underscaled ego, Frost has a go at an increasingly rare manner of affable, feel-good character comedy. At thirteen, he was set to win the UK’s Junior Salsa Championships, but in the twenty-five years since, he’s become a self-pitying office mouse. The arrival of Julia, a new, American boss (Rashida Jones) perks Bruce up, especially once he learns she’s, well, a secret salsa dancer. Add complications from bullying co-worker Chris O’Dowd and, among other character actors, Ian McShane as his childhood dance instructor, and the genial everyman-Superman story finds its shape. Read the rest of this entry »
A filthy, nasty thrill ride, “Cheap Thrills” is the rudest defense of Traditional American Values in all too long. Brazen post-Haneke-Pinter-Tarantino misanthropy runs deep in a gutter. Man wakes up in the morning, he’s forgotten his dreams of being a writer, his wife and young child beside him—“The past six months have been amazing, I love the shit out of you”—as he sets out on his work day, finds an eviction notice on the front door over almost $5,000 in back rent, which he crumples on his way to his machine shop job, where he’s quickly “downsized.” So, down to the bar, where he (stolid yet supple everyman Pat Healy) runs into a disreputable cohort of five years back (Ethan Embry) just as he’s had enough of a snootful to face his family. Enter: a couple on her birthday (Sara Paxton, the unhinged but wondrously controlled, controlling David Koechner), with a pocket full of cash and increasingly humiliating, then mutilating “Jackass”-style challenges, first at the tavern, and later at their fine home overlooking the mute, glittering panoply of Los Angeles by night. All that happens is bloody and fucking awful and it’s a wondrous display. Read the rest of this entry »
“On your left,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) says on a run, rushing past a man who will become one of his closest allies in the warfare to come in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” For someone who will never master the intricacies of the “Marvel universe” of cross-pollinated properties and storylines, an almost immediate satisfaction in the fine craft of directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (“Community,” “You, Me And Dupree”) came from how closely allied this superhero adventure is to 1970s American movies, down to the superb casting of Robert Redford, the face of 1970s paranoia classics like “Three Days Of The Condor,” “The Candidate” and “All The President’s Men,” as the enforcer of 2010s universal spying on the world’s citizenry. Read the rest of this entry »
Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac Volume 2” (rendered onscreen as the internet-unfriendly “Nymph()maniac”) extends the chockablock low-to-high-and-back-again smorgasbord of the first half of the “international version” of his latest provocation. Charlotte Gainsbourg takes center stage as the adult “Joe,” after Sophie Kennedy Clark’s enactment of her memories of sexual initiation in the opening salvo. (Distributor Magnolia Pictures notes, “The international version is the only version of the film that has been released commercially anywhere in the world. There is no ‘American’ version of the film—the film being released in the US has not been altered or censored from the international version.”) The approach remains episodic, with bursts of inspiration succeeded by musings on music and math that on first viewing seem to convolute more than complicate. It’s a novelistic approach that becomes more appealing as the stories unfold. And despite bold imagery and frank chitchat, there’s nearly nothing erotic about either installment. Read the rest of this entry »
While Lars Von Trier has taken a press “vow of silence” after his unfortunate remarks about Nazis to a Cannes 2011 press conference for “Melancholia,” the very form of his newest film(s), “Nymphomaniac” is in itself a succession of formal provocations that speak loudly. And that’s not even getting to the content of the first installment, “Nymphomaniac Volume I” yet. (“Nymphomaniac Volume II” is released in Chicago theaters April 4.) “NI” debuted for Christmas in Trier’s Danish homeland, and debuted in the U.S. at an invited preview at Sundance. The Danish version, longer by twenty minutes or so and more sexually explicit, debuted internationally at the Berlin Film Festival; the American “NI” has been on video-on-demand for a few weeks, and “NII” will follow the same release pattern. At some point, the two films will be available in their longer, five-hour-or-so version, which, it’s been reported, Trier handed over to others at some point to trim even to that length. That’s a long preamble to indicate it’s not length that counts, however, but instead Trier’s earnest attempt to chronicle one fictional woman’s sexuality and feelings toward fathers, while being tended by another older man, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who counters her stories with his own about fancies like fly-fishing, making analogy and metaphor, Scheherazade-style, of what’s inside her literally fevered mind. Read the rest of this entry »
Austin, Texas is the setting for “Love & Air Sex,” a cockeyed, if not screwball comedy from Bryan Poyser, the director of likable, sometimes abrasive small movies like “Lovers Of Hate” (2010) and “Dear Pillow” (2005). But however much based on fact or fate, David DeGrow Shotwell’s screenplay premise about two estranged couples whose lives intersect through the agency of a karaoke-like competition called “Air Sex,” has a readily alienating inauthentic. There are bawdy instants and good, low-t0-the-ground location work—the filmmakers wouldn’t use any public place that wouldn’t allow their real name to be used—the very setup itches and nags even when sparks of genuine charm trickle onto the screen. Read the rest of this entry »
The genial yet barbed “Le Week-end” is another sort of dirty laundry from Hanif Kureishi, the writer of “My Beautiful Laundrette,” and one more piquant take on sexual and romantic intimacy in collaboration with director Roger Michell for the fourth time (after “Venus ,” “The Mother” and “Buddha of Suburbia”). Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are Nick and Meg, two academics, a long-married, affectionate yet prickly couple who retrace the steps of their honeymoon for their thirtieth anniversary. They also run into an old friend of Nick’s who lives in Paris (Jeff Goldblum, who lives for roles like this in which he can be so effortlessly, mellifluously articulate). All three actors are in their prime here: instigator Goldblum is surpassed by stage veteran Duncan’s snappish, restless fury and by Broadbent’s tenacious melancholy. Read the rest of this entry »
If on a winter’s night, a screenwriter…
Wes Anderson’s dense, compacted, throwback-look forward, comic mock-operetta of a mythic Mitteleuropa seemingly patterned after the no-place/not-home movies of filmmakers like Lubitsch, Lang, Ophuls, Mamoulian and Renoir, who had escaped the onrushing events between the wars in Europe, bursts with influence, overflows with decor, makes whimsy in the reflected light of offscreen historical horrors. Bold balderdash and elevated deadpan, its most ready surface influence would appear to be heady expatriate confections like “To Be Or Not To Be,” and other films of that time that do not stint on looming shadows in faux-European studio settings.
Anderson’s everyman-in-no-man’s-land is Gustave H., the concierge of an ocean liner of a wedding-cake deluxe hotel in the fictional duchy of Zubrowka, The Grand Budapest Hotel. He is a man with a job, if not a surname or a notable nationality. Ralph Fiennes invests H. with the brusque panache of both the boulevardier and the comic lights of the stage. Lubitsch’s blithe cosmopolitanism is supplanted by brute snippiness in the person of Fiennes. Speaking faster than he fast-walks, his H. is given to “oh fuck it”s that are the verbal equal of Indiana Jones choosing to take out a pistol and dispatch a scimitar-wielding opponent. (Fiennes is nourished by H.’s bursts of comic filth.) His impatience, his hurry, accelerates the sense that a narrative, an era, is hurtling to a close, as well as setting the tempo for the heist-and-chase design of the movie.