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 »
Sleek, silver, turning sixty, Robert Miller seems to be atop his world, a billionaire commanding the love of family and preparing to sell the family financial empire for a rare price in a post-economic-crash world. But the Clintonesque Miller (Richard Gere) has not gambled long-to-short and short-to-long only on a series of deals, but on multiple sets of books, false statements and the affections of a much younger mistress (Laetitia Casta) whose art gallery he supports. Gere’s multiple reactions, physical, flickering across his face, demonstrating the conflicted businessman’s reactions to these multiple fiscal and mortal obstacles in a given week is post-Pakula thriller goodness. Read the rest of this entry »
Goofy and sometimes downright odd, the oh-so-small “Robot and Frank” is mildly futuristic, not quite a drama, certainly not a comedy, but a decent showcase for the always-welcome empathetic gifts of Frank Langella. Some years in the future, Frank, a retired cat burglar, with banded rolls of hundreds handy in his wall safe, has grown children who decide, despite his failing memory, to keep him in his own home by providing him with a robot caretaker. Read the rest of this entry »
Adam Sandler does repeat business with the same prospectus for last year’s “Jack and Jill”: a hurting family heals by getting past disgust linked to class. In that sentimental comedy about estranged twins, Sandler’s Jack was horribly embarrassed by his gauche sister Jill, who he played in drag. She humanized him, despite his intolerance. Now Sandler is déclassé Donny Berger, father of upscale hedge funder Todd (Andy Samberg). In shame, this bootstrapper always told people his parents died in an explosion when he was nine years old. In fact, his mother is doing thirty in the pen for once screwing a seventh-grader, Donny. Living off his tabloid celebrity, he badly raised their son, who he named Hans Solo Berger. This third-grader never asked for that “New Kids on the Block” tattoo on his back. Weighed four-hundred pounds at age twelve. And fled at eighteen. Screenwriter David Caspe sets up a deadline: Donny goes to prison next week if he fails to pay $43,000 in back taxes. Read the rest of this entry »
In the song “Strange Overtones,” from David Byrne and Brian Eno’s 2008 album, “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” Byrne croons, “This groove is out of fashion/ These beats are twenty years old/ I saw you lend a hand to/ The ones out standing in the cold.” Several tracks from that album, augmented by a score by Craig Armstrong (“World Trade Center”), provide an added pulse to “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” Oliver Stone’s lucid, if jangled sequel to his twenty-three-year-old hit. Refreshingly, the “beats” aren’t out of date, and pulpy bombast surfs across the wreckage of our financial system. While the script courses across the breadth of the collapse of banks and the cooptation of bailouts, the script, credited to Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff, is deft at introducing and sketching quick illustrations of some of the more arcane elements of banking that led to the collapse of Lehman Bros. (rendered here as Keller Zabel) and later, the fall of reinsurer AIG (aka Churchill Schwartz). Stone offers small footnotes, including cable media figures and economic Cassandras (such as “Dr. Doom,” Nouriel Roubini). That dialogue at least pulls us away from the romantic intrigues of Gordon Gekko’s website-baring young daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan) and trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf, only a few months older than “Wall Street”). The busy-ness continues with many cameos, including Stone himself as an investor, Frank Langella as a “King Lear”-like banking mentor and Josh Brolin as a dishonest billionaire banker. (Langella plays Lou Zabel; Stone’s banker father was named Lou Stone.) Some of the aphorisms are punch-drunk or overcooked, but it is bracing to hear a character like Douglas’ tell an audience, in a major studio production, “You are all pretty much fucked. You are the NINJA generation… No income, no jobs, no assets.” And while Charles Ferguson’s upcoming documentary, the angry “Inside Job,” is more sober, Stone manages to sound some of the same pessimistic chords about what comes next in the world. There’s a terrible, terrible third-act development, set in Zurich, that almost crashes the movie, but the scene at least provides a reason for its fantastical, optimistic final scenes, especially one that gathers its central characters on a leafy late-night Manhattan street. (Money never sleeps, and sometimes it only whispers.) Just enough money. Just enough foolish hope. Gekko remains an opportunistic lunatic, and his spirit remains at large. There are several smaller cameos, in-jokes of various magnitudes, but the most alarming may be the moment in a restaurant when Gekko finds himself face-to-face with Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. With Susan Sarandon, Eli Wallach and Austin Pendleton. 133m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
Michael Douglas is back, with an unapologetically acerbic turn as an arrogant loser in “Solitary Man.” The 65-year-old actor’s career as a leading man has distinct stages. While known as second banana to Karl Malden in TV’s “Streets of San Francisco,” he was nurturing his career as a producer, notably with a property his father, Kirk, owned: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Other successes followed, including “Romancing The Stone,” but as an actor, he bloomed in the 1980s and nineties when he embraced his inner sonofabitch, tackling some of the ferocity his father had almost always steeped his characters in. Even considering only “Fatal Attraction” (1987), “Basic Instinct” (1992) and “Wall Street” (1987), here is a man who embodied the selfish shit, playing the vain, venal American male for all he thought he was worth. 2000′s “Traffic” and “Wonder Boys” were stellar turns, and then he took a step back. Now, after a period of time spent as second banana to wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, the 65-year-old is taking roles in non-studio pictures, and his Ben Kalmen in “Solitary Man,” directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (writers of “Rounders,” “Oceans Thirteen,” “The Girlfriend Experience”) and written by Koppelman, is superb. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Ray Pride
Since its Sundance 2009 debut, “The Greatest” has gotten flak from a flotilla of reviewers for its sometimes eccentric story structure and for its overt melodrama. But my first word was “Wow,” after writer-director Shana Feste’s debut feature killed an entire notebook for me (there’s so much filigree to footnote in a gorgeously acted, poetically written and, yes, elliptical story). If you’re lucky enough to be caught up in it, it’s a magnificent, heartfelt romantic melodrama about family lost and family gained, with startling acting, particularly the detailed frustrations of parents played by Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon, bold yet telling production design—a worthy great-granddaughter to the films of Douglas Sirk. I think I spied at least one great homage to a particular painting of Vermeer, and there is a marital bed that is at once mid-twentieth-century modern and suggestive of a troubled long-term marriage and, most strikingly, it evokes the killing cages that painter Francis Bacon often entrapped his screaming popes within. John Bailey, Feste’s cinematographer, shot “Ordinary People,” which Feste cites as a primary influence. I was shaken, almost as much as the multiple women near me whose shoulders were quaking during the debut’s end credits. Carey Mulligan, as the pregnant girlfriend of a son who dies too soon on the basis of her charming, open, dare I say, American performance, you would not guess is a girl from Surrey. “An Education” (out on DVD this week) cemented the young actress’ reputation, but she’s very, very good here as well, twinkling and self-contained. 104m. (Ray Pride)
“The Greatest” opens Friday at Landmark Century and Landmark Renaissance.
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 »
Small, understated, but lovingly observed, Wayne Wang’s “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers,” adapted by Yiyun Li from her own short story. Mr. Shi (Henry O) is a widower and retired scientist who comes to the Midwest to live with his divorced daughter (Faye Yu) who left Beijing twelve years earlier to study. There’s beauty in the leisurely character of their interaction, a hushed quotidian captured by Swiss-born cinematographer Patrick Lindenmaier. Wayne Wang’s career as a feature director came with one of the first micro-budgeted success of the once-burgeoning American independent movement, 1982′s “Chan is Missing.” Working in much of his work with women or Chinese and Chinese-American themes, the 59-year-old director has made studio movies like the Susan Sarandon-Natalie Portman mother-daughter drama “Anywhere But Here” (1999) and the Jennifer Lopez vehicle, “Maid in Manhattan” (2002). But Wang alternates smaller projects. Shot the teensy-scaled “The Princess of Nebraska,” from another Yiyun Li story, about a young woman making a momentous choice, with smaller, mostly consumer-level cameras, including the main character’s cell phones, to be shown for free on YouTube starting October 17. 83m. (Ray Pride)
Vadim Perelman (“House of Sand and Fog”) directs Emil Stern’s adaptation of Laura Kasischke’s 2002 novel. One lovely April day, two high schoolers in the girls’ bathroom face a classmate on a shooting spree. Flashbacks and flashforwards interpolate the girls’ lives leading up to that awful day when the shooter asks the best friends which one he should kill, and the fifteenth anniversary memorial service that only one can attend. The title is a literal description of the narrative premise. A poet who teaches at the University of Michigan—her current courses are Advanced Narrations and Poetry Writing Workshop—Kasischke’s prose overflows with allusion. On her first page she describes the pages of an English lit anthology as so thin, “they’re like dead girls’ dreams, translucent skin.” An epigraph by Apollinaire cites “my youth, dead with the spring.” Although the film’s visual design translates the novel’s evanescent hyper-sensitivities with lyrical focusing, close-ups and slow-motion, there are less subtle notes: the Zombies song “She’s Not There” on the film’s soundtrack is a tip-off. (“I wish I’d thought of it,” emailed Kasischke.) One girl is Maureen (Susan Sarandon’s daughter Eva Amurri from “The Banger Sisters” and “Saved.”) The other is the 17-year-old Diana, played by Evan Rachel Wood (“Thirteen,” “Down In The Valley”), and played by Uma Thurman (“My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” “Gattaca”) as an adult with a prof husband, a troubling 8-year-old daughter, a perfect flower garden and post-traumatic hallucinations. Portions of this psychological mystery transpire inside a left temporal lobe where a bullet comes to rest, but at heart it’s an original tale of unlikely pals: sorta slutty Diana teases Maureen the Christian about the Rapture. 90m. (Bill Stamets)