Or, “How Walt Disney Nanny-splained The Life Of The Writer Of ‘Mary Poppins’ To Herself.” Genial, inconsequential, deeply odd but not quite “quirky”—a bifurcated narrative about the alcoholic father of novelist P.L. Travers (Colin Farrell) and the work methods of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks)—“Saving Mr. Banks” is a movie made by the Walt Disney Company about Walt Disney himself that has a litter of knowing japes and intermittent bites of sarcasm, largely from Emma Thompson’s bitter, anxious, uneasy, red-toe-polished control freak. The control extends to the current corporation, at one point in the form of the CGI plume of a single, nonexistent lit cigarette is all that is allowed to indicate the Man’s historically well-known chain-smoking jones. Read the rest of this entry »
“What does it mean to spend money? A dollar. A million.” With “Cosmopolis,” David Cronenberg and Robert Pattinson create a day in the life as they hop into the soundproofed pages of one of Don DeLillo’s minor novels and wreak a compelling, if detached succession of compartmentalized dream-scenes about the fall of money. Cronenberg adapted DeLillo’s 2003 novel, which, while looking back to September 11, 2001, is oddly prescient about 2008 and 2012 as well. It’s unapologetically cerebral stuff. The dialogue, esoteric, hermetic, unwieldy, is drawn almost entirely from DeLillo and it’s a thrill to hear the writer’s gnomic interior-monologue-spoken-aloud staccato brought to life by good actors, which include Pattinson, cool and damped as Eric Packer, a twenty-eight-year-old billionaire asset manager who senses the pixels and numerals seeping from his stratified, Ponzified, algorithmic mastery of rarefied fiscal air. He’s made an ungainly bet against the Chinese yuan, and wants only to cross Manhattan in his white stretch limousine, armor-plated, “Prousted” with cork, to get a haircut from his old barber. Read the rest of this entry »
Rated not appropriate for sober audiences. That Tom Cruise was willing to be filmed in ass-baring leather chaps not only tells you everything you need to know about “Rock of Ages,” but it also disproves any notion that the man takes himself too seriously. Nor does this jukebox musical ever take itself seriously, sending up the 1980s with its big hair, insanely bad fashion and parodying the moment when hip-hop was co-opted for boy-bands on MTV. Not only does Cruise do an unexpectedly credible job of channeling Axl Rose at his most cliché-ridden excess, but Paul Giamatti sings, after all. “Rock of Ages” is musical theater fantasy camp for movie stars who not only let their hair down, but grow it out and look unapologetically foolish. A duet with Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand is ridiculously priceless. Catherine Zeta-Jones leading a chorus line recalls the absurdity of a similar scene with Meryl Streep in “Mamma Mia.” And I say all this as a compliment. Sometimes? Big dumb fun is OK.
George Clooney’s fourth feature debuted at Toronto, where a fair grumbling scrum of reviewers called it “cliché,” found its backstairs politics less than interesting, said there was nothing “new.” I say that’s spinach, and to hell with it. Have movies about politics become like movies about sex, where fears and predilections of its critics are imposed atop opinions like damning CT scan results? Were they onto something? Does a process story like this, with its lightly coded spoken shorthand, extend beyond steady followers of politics? (“She’s gonna take this to Drudge or Roll Call or some shit.”) While traipsing a few familiar byways, the theme-and-variation script of “The Ides Of March” is one of the boldest political statements by an American filmmaker in memory: the telling’s not resigned to corruption or concession, but instead, it’s cognizant. Read the rest of this entry »
Or, “Five Dicks and Some Penises.” The unpretentiously titled “The Hangover Part II,” credited as “A Todd Phillips Movie,” is a Rube Goldberg-style assembly of gross-outs repeating the template (and most of the characters) of the first installment with a wedding expedition to Thailand in place of the original Las Vegas bachelor party gone to hell. Attempts at synopsis would diminish what pleasure there is in deciphering the wild details of the “Wolfpack”‘s newest degenerate blackout, but the rating reasons are accurate: “The film has been rated R by the MPAA for pervasive language, strong sexual content including graphic nudity, drug use and brief violent images.” Essentially a succession of degradations bulldozered forward by an aggressive, overstuffed collection of pop songs, “The Hangover Part II” is a splendid sample of screenwriting Jenga, where the most improbable of complications arrive in the midst of the story at just the right moment to move things along. By all lights, it should topple over at any second. Read the rest of this entry »
With the sly and understated “Win Win,” writer-director Tom McCarthy’s unstated goal is again to depict how goodness and kindness can come in the most ordinary lives.
In suburban New Jersey, attorney Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer for elderly patients, with a good wife (Amy Ryan), two kids and a practice that’s coming apart in our economy. He’s a high-school wrestling coach as well, sharing duties with office mate Jeffrey Tambor. A questionable business choice volunteering to be guardian to a client, Leo (Burt Young), leads to complications, including a runaway grandson, Kyle, who’s a star athlete. Alex Shaffer, a first-time actor who in fact is a champion wrestler, plays Kyle with gentle assurance as a quiet, bright sullen young guy in bad circumstances. But for Mike? He could sure use him in the high-school program…
McCarthy, whose earlier mixtures of comedy and drama are “The Visitor” and “The Station Agent,” again explores bonds in an unlikely community borne out of affinity more than through blood. While McCarthy has said he’d rather be slightly ordinary than to take us out of his characters’ lives, the dialogue in “Win Win” (co-written with his high-school wrestling buddy Joe Tiboni) is almost as stylized as “True Grit,” in a way, which includes a sophisticated take on swearing. “That’s funny,” McCarthy tells me. At times, you hear a “fricking”‘ or a “fracking,” but these people in this modern moment express themselves in different circumstances through a combination of saying “Fuck, shit, frackin’” and “crap.” Read the rest of this entry »
Mordechai Richler’s last novel, “Barney’s Version,” takes bits and bobs from the much-admired Canadian writer’s own life and refracts them through the perspective of an unreliable narrator who doesn’t realize his faculties are failing from Alzheimer’s. While Michael Konyves’ sprawling adaptation of Richler’s love letter to Montecristos, Scotch and adultery skirts that conceit, the movie, intriguingly, leaps forward and back in ways that suggest hack television producer Barney Panofsky has always possessed a nimble but scattered mind. As played by Paul Giamatti (winner of a best actor Golden Globe on Sunday for the role) in a succession of beards and feral hairpieces across three decades and two continents, Barney is a skirt-chaser of the broadest stripe, meeting his third wife at his second wedding, then pursuing her for months afterward. (His many, many transgressions only start at that level.) Giamatti glories in playing the grand bad man. Read the rest of this entry »
What did Dame Helen Mirren and Christopher Walken get their Oscar nominations for in “The Last Station”? Why, ACTING, my dear boy, for ACTING, for fury and flair and splendid cussedness. A spirited melodrama adapted from Jay Parini’s 1990s novel about the last year of the life of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer, grand, grandiose), “The Last Station” is vivid and entertaining, largely for the spirited performances by the leads, but there’s delicate work by all the actors enacting the figures settling the affairs of the world’s most famous novelist of 1910. It’s also good to see another sort of romp from Michael Hoffman, who directed “Restoration” and “Soap Dish,” other semi-comic studies of the holding of court. The interlocking storylines demonstrate abiding faith in the power of love: young love, old love, desire, jealousy, pride… and especially old love. With James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti, Anne-Marie Duff, Kerry Condon, Patrick Kennedy, John Sessions, Tomas Spencer, David Masterson. 112m. (Ray Pride)
Eccentric without ever becoming unduly whimsical, Sophie Barthes’ surrealism-lite “Cold Souls” (which she tenders a co-film-by with cinematographer-partner-soul mate Andrij Parekh) pirouettes within the same school as Charlie Kaufman’s dance floor. Paul Giamatti plays blocked actor Paul Giamatti, who’s having agonies over his role in a production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” much to the chagrin of his fellow actors, the play’s director Michael Tucker and wife Emily Watson. An article in the New Yorker leads Giamatti to one Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn), who specializes in “soul storage” from an office on Roosevelt Island. There are clever, understated visual touches throughout—Giamatti’s journeys to-and-from on the red tram that rises above the river at 59th Street toward the soul storage unit suggests the confinement of consciousness inside the body; the final image is an alarmingly wistful going-out-of-focus shot that suggests a watercolor Rothko—even when the parallel tales of Giamatti’s tortures and a “mule” (Dina Korzun) who transports souls within herself for Russian soul-traffickers becomes a little complicated. Read the rest of this entry »
Writer-director Tony Gilroy—who scripted the “Bourne” trilogy—revisits the corporate white-collar environs of 2007′s “Michael Clayton” with a romantic caper starring ex-MI6 spy Ray (Clive Owen) and ex-CIA agent Claire (Julia Roberts). To score a fat early retirement package, they take security posts at competing corporations helmed by cunning CEOs played by Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti. This fleet entertainment opens in a Dubai party where Ray hit on Claire, and Claire duped Ray. From there it’s five years later in New York City, two years ago in Rome, back to New York, eighteen months ago in London, and then off to the Bahamas by way of an industrial park in Georgia, next stop Miami, then three months ago in Cleveland, twelve hours later in Zurich, ten days earlier in New York and finally back in Zurich. Gilroy says he studied “The Thomas Crown Affair,” and there’s a similar play here with a duplicitous couple of pros who never know who’s playing whom. For Claire and Roy, intimacy is a matter of mutual espionage. They are keenly aware that neither plays fair. Love is encrypted. From “Michael Clayton,” Gilroy brings back his cinematographer, editor, composer and production designer, if not his critique of execs and their ethics. 125m. (Bill Stamets)