Among the small, canny, intelligent things to admire about Robert Redford’s “The Company You Keep” is the absence of a cast list in the opening credits: it’s the most sweetly starry supporting cast in any recent small-scale movie. (If you want the same eyes-wide surprise I got from the movie, I’ll just say it’s smart, engaging work before dropping names of the cast, which isn’t top-heavy, but just right, filled with nuanced bits of performance.) Okay, ready: Shia LaBeouf is a young journalist for the “Albany Sun-Times,” with a logo much like Chicago’s own Sun-Times. After the arrest of a radical still on the run from a 1960s murder (Susan Sarandon), he’s on the sniff for the big story, aided if not abetted by his skeptical editor, Stanley Tucci. Single fatherRobert Redford is a cautious lawyer who won’t take the case, for reasons relatively easy to surmise. Read the rest of this entry »
Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Lawrence
Call it “Running Child.” Early reviewers of Gary Ross’ adaptation of the young-adult bestseller “The Hunger Games” were largely hung up on its literary predecessors for a story of humans hunting humans to the death, reality television, and human sacrifices being made to satisfy the larger society, which may include “The Most Dangerous Game,” Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” and a couple of Stephen King’s Richard Bachman Novels, “The Running Man” and, especially, “The Long Walk.” Then, there’s also “Gladiator” and “America’s Next Top Model.” Plus, the source that author Suzanne Collins cites, the Greek legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. That’s the best one, particularly if you like this popular book called… “The Hunger Games.” But what exactly is on over 10,000 screens this weekend? Read the rest of this entry »
J.C. Chandor makes a poised and polished writing-directing debut with a Lehman Brothers-inspired story of an investment firm on the day-and-a-half it implodes. Set in New York City in 2008, “Margin Call” is more about character than acumen. Face-to-face decency is Chandor’s concern, not the volatility and venality of Wall Street. The son of a Merrill Lynch lifer, he once ran the drama club at his New Jersey high school. His screenplay recalls themes found in playwrights Arthur Miller and David Mamet, who likewise used American business as crucibles for the male psyche. Read the rest of this entry »
First unfurled in March 1941 by Timely Comics, Captain America goes from that ten-cent comic to the big screen in a summer action adventure built for ten-year-old boys. In 1943, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) lies five times to recruiters before Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), an Austrian scientist in exile in Brooklyn, reclassifies the asthmatic “4F” runt as “IA,” and recruits him into the Strategic Scientific Reserve for a “super-soldier” experiment. Steve is the sort of Brooklynite who gets beat up for chastising a jerk in a movie theater who heckles a patriotic newsreel. A massive injection of blue serum, followed by a blinding zap of Vita-Ray that taps half of Brooklyn’s electricity, “amplifies” Steve’s muscles, stature and righteousness. His homefront handlers brand him Captain America and put him on the road with show girls to hype war bonds. Read the rest of this entry »
Can a film be so retro it’s new; so anachronistic it’s a thing of now? Harvard grad Damien Chazelle’s low-budget 16mm black-and-white hand-held, in-your-face jazz musical romance “Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench” pretty much finds (or loses) its audience under its opening credits. A light yet still brassy jazz number accompanies images of a couple in contemporary Boston: a jazz trumpeter and a shy girl. Dance will ensue, as well as breaking out into song. Much of the camerawork and editing feels more like a 1970s student film than a relic of the 1960s or a product of the 2000s, but Chazelle’s willingness to pastiche everyone from Demy to Cassavetes to Godard marks the film as of recent moment. Either its whimsy failed me or I failed it, dunno. When I tell friends about loving musicals, the way they sometimes recoil may be similar to my reaction here. But other reviewers are charmed, including the LA Weekly reviewer who found it “thrillingly innovative,” and the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who named it one of the thirty best of 2010. And the Village Voice’s J. Hoberman says it’s “a beautifully shot, rhythmically complex, wildly artistic, willfully eccentric quest for authenticity.” I could well be wrong, or I may just lack the ear for the music on screen. The Bratislava Symphony Orchestra performs Justin Hurwitz’s score. “Presented” by Stanley Tucci. 82m. HDCam video. (Ray Pride)
“Guy And Madeline On A Park Bench” plays Friday-Saturday, Monday-Tuesday and Thursday at Siskel.
Limber young women in garters gyrate and scheme, live and love, hope and dream. That would include Ali (“short for Alice”), the small-town Iowa girl with large pipes, mom-less since the age of 7, played by Christina Aguilera as well as Cher’s fading boss of a Los Angeles burlesque palace called, fittingly enough, “The Burlesque Lounge.” They all came west in search of their own deeply felt sense of movie-musical cliché. Sex is indicated, but what’s the baddest threat to life, liberty and the pursuit of “Burlesque”? Money. Real estate. A large, wide Sunset Boulevard skyscraper in the making. That emblem of phallic consequence—and vast sums of fiscal investment—weirdly suits the second feature by writer-director Steven Antin, brother of Robin Antin, proprietress of The Pussycat Dolls, who founded that burlesque enterprise in 1995. Read the rest of this entry »
Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) in Ojai, California has it easier than Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Olive is merely ostracized in “Easy A,” a teen sex comedy where the only premarital playing around is comic-pretend sounds of sex. This rather verbal virgin may not start the rumor she slept with a frat boy but she opts not to stop it. She undertakes a science-fair project of sorts: what’s it like to get noticed in her high school? Reading “The Scarlet Letter” in English class, Olive relates to the Hester Prynne character in this 1850 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Shamed in a puritan village in Massachusetts, Hester wears an “A” for adultery sewn to her dress. Not for extra credit or an easy grade, Olive flaunts her new reputation by sewing her own “A” onto her new, uncharacteristically risque outfits. She self-markets her disrepute by taking gift cards from male classmates—starting with a bullied gay—who are in desperate need of rumors they scored with Olive. Director Will Gluck (“Fired Up”) and writer Bert V. Royal offer a smart entry into a genre not known for booking it. Making female virginity an issue for seniors in a California high school, however, may be anachronistic. One apt throwback to Hawthorne’s voice—his narrator is “disinclined to talk overmuch of myself and my affairs”—is Olive’s webcam on her laptop, her way to narrate her slutty infamy and image makeover via the internet. Adults get terrific material here. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson play Olive’s parents Dill and Rosemary, who put watching “The Bucket List” on their own bucket list. Thomas Haden Church plays Olive’s English teacher and Lisa Kudrow plays his wife, the high school guidance counselor. For extra credit, cinematographer Michael Grady turns in a few long shots that are a treat to find in a genre that typically confines two-character scenes in tighter views. With Amanda Bynes, Alyson Michalka, Penn Badgley, Cam Gigandet, Dan Byrd, Malcolm McDowell and Fred Armisen. 90m. (Bill Stamets)
By Ray Pride
There’s small, there’s large, there’s big, and then there’s overblown and overbearing.
There’s the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, there’s “King Kong,” and now there’s Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s unlikely bestseller, “The Lovely Bones,” written with his usual collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. “The Lovely Bones” is narrated from beyond the grave by a young girl, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), as she watches over her parents (Rachel Weisz, Marc Wahlberg) and her rapist-murderer (Stanley Tucci), trying to make sense of what’s happened to her so she can move beyond the strange limbo she’s in. This is where the overbearing part comes in: in concept, her surroundings are limited to the experience and emotions of a girl her age, but the riot of stylized color and bold backdrops is less evocative of pictorial masters of subjective delirium like Powell and Pressburger (“Black Narcissus,” “The Red Shoes”) than of IMAX-sized screensavers. Fields and skies that resemble ads for over-the-counter antihistamines do the tale no favor, either.
But after its Oscar-qualifying run, Paramount and DreamWorks made a bold marketing choice, pulling the film’s Christmas release and rescheduling for mid-January. Jackson has so superlatively realized the emotional surges of an immature, inexperienced girl that it’s now being positioned as a film for an audience that sees and re-sees the “Twilight” movies. It’ll be fascinating to see how that plays out, even if some older viewers wonder where the bold yet delicate director of “Heavenly Creatures” went. Read the rest of this entry »
Writer-director Nora Ephron (“You’ve Got Mail,” “Sleepless in Seattle”) simmers an affectionate portrait of two American women linked by French cuisine. “Based on two true stories” reads a novel title at the start of this twin biopic about a cookbook writer and a blogger. “Julia” (Meryl Streep) comes from “My Life in France,” penned by the late Julia Child with her grandnephew Alex Prud’homme. Her memoir recounts how the self-described “six-foot-two-inch, 36-year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian” fell in love with French cooking during her husband’s posting at the U.S. embassy in Paris after World War II. In 1961 she published “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I.” “Julie” (Amy Adams) is Julie Powell. The 30-year-old New Yorker turned her 2002 blog about preparing every dish in Child’s cookbook into the 2005 book “Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment.” Ephron alternates episodes in the lives of Julia and Julie for an ambling chronicle of Julia’s infectious bonhomie and Julie’s beguiling angst. “Julie & Julia” is more about savoring their company than suspense about how they will make their ways into print. Loving their roles, Streep and Adams are amusing, unassuming connoisseurs of life in the kitchen. McCarthyism and 9/11, respectively, offer counterpoints to the ensuing joie de cuisine. Unlike the performance artists who enacted all the tips of Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey, Powell appeared to undertake her homage without snark. Julie likens Julia to “some great big Good Fairy.” Ephron offers a butter-based alternative to “Super Size Me,” Morgan Spurlock’s thirty-day stunt of eating three daily meals at McDonald’s. Upgrading in-store pop tunes is a lithe, lilting score by Andre Desplat. With Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Emond. 110m. (Bill Stamets)
A tiny mouse with unusual tastes is the star of this children’s tale made with uncommon craft. Despereaux (voiced by Matthew Broderick) has an un-mouse-like love of light, music, reading and Princess Pea (voiced by Emma Watson). He undertakes a quest that will remake the kingdom for rodents and royals alike. The painterly style of this lovely animated feature refers to Old World parchment, thread, and fairy tales, not state-of-the-industry software, tie-ins and fart jokes. It’s also an anomaly for articulating humanist values, a reading enhanced by the choice of Sigourney Weaver as the narrator. (Who better to map a land cursed with fear upheld by tribunals?) In a let-me-tell-you-a-story manner, she makes knowing asides to viewers, just like the original narrator of “The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread.” Author Kate DiCamillo asked “dear readers” to pause on key words in her 2003 book: “quest,” “chiaroscuro,” “perfidy” and “empathetic.” (DiCamillo’s “Because of Winn-Dixie” was earlier adapted to the screen.) “Despereaux” director Sam Fell displayed a knack for handling caste-conflict in the realm of rodents in his “Flushed Away” (2006), and here relates the distinctive cultures of meek mice and nasty rats. Co-director Rob Stevenhagen is an animator making his directing debut. Writer Gary Ross lends a lighter touch than felt in his more pedantic “Pleasantville,” another allegory of outcasts, esthetes and liberators. With uplifting whiffs of savory soup, “The Tale of Despereaux” champions storytelling as the light of the world, from torture-racked dungeons to castle spires, a land where a mouse scampers across the words “Once upon a time…” all the way to “… happily ever after.” And Despereaux makes it just so. With the voices of Dustin Hoffman, Tracey Ullman, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Ciaran Hinds, Frances Conroy, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins and Christopher Lloyd. 94m. Widescreen. (Bill Stamets)