(R) • 108 minutes • On-screen here from 12/17/10 to 1/13/11
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey
Synopsis: Darren Aronofsky’s bizarre and brilliant Black Swan might remind you of many other movies, from All About Eve to David Cronenberg’s The Fly. But it’s also like nothing you’ve ever seen before. A symphony of opposites, it combines the cinéma-vérité style of Frederick Wiseman’s La danse with a claustrophobic subjectivity reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. Its clinical realism comes loaded with enough mirrors and scenery chewing to fill a Douglas Sirk film festival, and its Red Shoes–like balletic effusions flare into horror-movie metamorphoses. The effect is unique, bewildering, and unforgettable, a portrait of The Iron Lady as a shattered personality, a non-stop fusion of cinematic choreography set to a lush Tchaikovsky-esque score. Black Swan is almost a perfect ballet in itself: sublime, excessive, and verging on the absurd. Fortunately, strong performances keep this earnest extravaganza from flying off into piffle. Natalie Portman puts in her best work to date as Nina, the exquisite, porcelain beauty of a ballerina whose driving desire, instilled in her by the ultimate stage mother (Barbara Hershey), is to win the plum part of Odette/Odile in her company’s upcoming production of Swan Lake. The Iron Ladyic director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), who’s a sexual-harassment lawsuit waiting to happen, sees her as fine for the White Swan half of this dual role, but as for the id-like Black Swan, he isn’t so sure. For that, she’ll need to get in touch with her inner bird. Meanwhile, a new dancer is in town: Lily, played by Mila Kunis as the brash, almost blowzy antithesis of Nina. Lily can intrude into Nina’s life at the most inopportune times — as when she arrives noisily late at a rehearsal when Nina is laboring on some key steps under Thomas’s despotic direction. But she can also pop by at just the right moment — as when Nina is having a Mommie Dearest run-in with her mother and Lily offers her an opportunity to escape to a wild night of roofies and girl-on-girl sex. Or was it? At this point, Black Swanappears to be taking a detour down Mulholland Drive. Regardless, the experience puts some feathers on Nina’s chest. Now maybe she can fulfill Thomas’s demands and “lose control.” So far, so clichéd: the good girl and her naughty alter ego need to meet and greet in order for the real performance to begin. This would seem a sophomoric formulation if Aronofsky didn’t make it palpably real, and if the rhythms and the mood of the editing and the images were not so incantatory. The drably chiaroscuro palette seems both naturalistic and dreamy, and the vérité camera captures the sheer physicality of the dancers and their regimen, offering so many close-ups of women’s battered feet, you could think you were watching a Tarantino movie. Toenails and fingernails especially are brutalized, and when Nina peels a hangnail almost down to her wrist, it’s a signal that this swan may be ready to take wing. And is the audience? Portman won me over in the scene in which, having learned that she’s won the part, she slinks to the bathroom — this time not to vomit, but to call her mother and tell her the news. The emotions on her face — terror, grief, and childlike joy — are devastating. It’s good preparation for her final transformation into the Black Swan. Not the Grand Guignol effects, but the flaming eyes of someone possessed — and perfect. By PETER KEOUGH
Waiting for Superman
(PG) • 111 minutes • On-screen here from 12/10/10 to 12/16/10
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Synopsis: Davis Guggenheim’s edifying and heartbreaking new documentary, says that our future depends on good teachers — and that the coddling of bad teachers by their powerful unions virtually ensures mediocrity, at best, in both teachers and the students in their care. The movie’s major villains are the National Education Association, the country’s largest union, and the American Federation of Teachers. Posed against them are the film’s heroes: Canada, whose Harlem Children’s Zone schools give kids an intense, comprehensive intellectual and social education, and Michelle Rhee, another Harvard grad who as chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public-school system enacted stringent reforms, including firing many principals she thought were substandard. Canada is like the gifted proselytizer who sells a great idea, and Rhee is like the tough sheriff brought in to clean up a bad town. Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth, might not have made his new film if, while taking his own children to their private school in Los Angeles each morning, he hadn’t had to drive past several public schools that he and his wife had decided wouldn’t suitably prepare their kids. What he found in his two years of researching Waiting for “Superman” (with co-producer Lesley Chilcott) was that a lot of schools aren’t right for any kids — neither the dull ones who need gentle prods to move competently from K to 12, nor the underprivileged bright ones who could be the Geoffrey Canadas of the future, if only a good charter school had enough slots to accept them all. The movie concentrates on five of these children: Bianca, in kindergarten, and Francisco, a first-grader, both applying to the Harlem Success Academy; two fifth-graders, Anthony in Washington and Daisy in East Los Angeles; and the lone white child, Emily, an eighth-grader in Silicon Valley. Because the schools they hope to enter choose their new enrollees not by testing but by lottery, the futures of these and hundreds of thousands of other kids — their careers, income levels, social standing — depend on which ball falls into the hole. Pure chance will determine whether the answer is Bingo! or the abyss.Guggenheim may load his case by concentrating on children who are already passionate about their education; surely the vaster challenge is to enlighten the kids who think school is not paradise but a prison. And charter schools, which are promoted here as the enlightened alternative to the public-school system, have a record more mixed than the film suggests. So it’s no surprise that Guggenheim has been the recipient of teachers’ dirty looks. (Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has written about the flaws she finds in the film’s generalizations.) But a documentary movie is not a dry treatise; certainly this one isn’t. Guggenheim wants to start conversations, debates, elevated arguments — to get people thinking about a crucial problem whose solution has eluded Presidents and parents for the past half-century.Waiting for “Superman” stirs that discussion, and perhaps moves it to the front of our national concerns. It is smartly and feelingly constructed. The 5 climactic lotteries lend the film a mood of desperate suspense; the 5 children, especially Bianca and Daisy, give it dollops of heart. This is more than an Important documentary: it is engaging and enraging — as captivating as any Superman movie, and as poignant as a child’s plea for help.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes)
(R) • 147 minutes • On-screen here from 11/19/10 to 12/9/10
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre
Starring: After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in a hospital and is set to face trial for attempted murder on her eventual release. With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must prove her innocence. In doing this she plays against powerful enemies and her own past.
(R) • 98 minutes • On-screen here from 11/12/10 to 11/18/10
Director: Sam Taylor-Wood
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, David Threlfall, Josh Bolt, Anne-Marie Duff
Synopsis: The story of John Lennon’s childhood and teenage years from 1944 to 1960, his relationship with his aunt Mimi and his mother Julia -the two dominant women in the first part of his life-, his first meeting with Paul McCartney and George Harrison, their friendship, their love for music. Nowhere Boy captures and conveys for the first time on screen, the events and personal circumstances that led to the formation of the Beatles – and the underlying family currents that shaped and molded the creative and inspirational qualities of John Lennon. Qualities that had a revolutionary impact on the world during his brief 40 years of life – and that continue to have immense effect 30 years after his death.
(NR) • 105 minutes • On-screen here from 11/5/10 to 11/11/10
Director: Pascal Chaumeil
Starring: Romain Duris, Vanessa Paradis, Julie Ferrier, Francois Damiens.
Synopsis: A former boxer joins forces with his brother and sister-in-law and together they offer the service of breaking up intended couples who are unhappy, even if they do not know it. When debts force him to use his seductive powers against a woman who is really in love, he finds himself challenged morally as well as professionally. They are hired by a rich man to break up the wedding of his daughter. The only problem is that they only have one week to do so.
(PG) • 90 minutes • On-screen here from 10/29/10 to 11/4/10
Director: Ruba Nadda
Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig
Synopsis: “Her kids grown and off pursuing their own happiness, Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) at last can travel to Egypt, where her U.N. employee husband Mark (Tom McCamus) organizes refugee camps in Gaza. With Mark tied up at work, Juliette spends time with former U.N. security officer Tareq (Alexander Siddig of “Clash of the Titans”) and finds a mild spark slowly emerging from their casual friendship. The buzz: Three cheers for a starring role for the wonderful Clarkson, not to mention a quiet, bittersweet love story that falls somewhere between “Before Sunrise” and “Lost in Translation.” Here’s hoping intelligent moviegoers seek this out, particularly “Sex and the City 2” helmer Michael Patrick King for a little lesson on how to document an American in the Middle East. The verdict: An elegy for the circumstances that get in the way of love, “Cairo Time” works at the pace of satisfaction gradually accumulating. The movie is about the choice between doing what’s practical and doing what the heart says, told with a graceful calm that renders everything that needs to be known about interpersonal dynamics. In “Cairo Time,” intellectual pursuits trigger the heart, while activities like sipping coffee and reading a magazine take on meaning well below the surface. This slow progressing beauty captures people accustomed to normalcy delighting in surprise moments of inspiration, an ill-timed reminder of the difference between happiness and mild contentment.” – Chicago Tribune. Notes: In 2003, Clarkson’s work in two independent films earned her unparalleled recognition. She was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe, SAG Award, Broadcast Film Critics Award and an independent Spirit Award for her role in “Pieces of April.” In addition, the Sundance Film Festival awarded her the Jury Prize for Outstanding Performance in “Pieces of April,” “The Station Agent” and “All the Real Girls.” For “Cairo Time,” her performance might just net her an Oscar.
It’s a Kind of a Funny Story
(PG-13) • 101 minutes • On-screen here from 10/8/10 to 10/28/10
Directors: Anna Bolden and Ryan Fleck
Starring: Keir Glichrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Dana DeVestern
Synopsis: In this New York City-set comedy-drama, 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist), stressed out from the demands of being a teenager, checks himself into a mental health clinic. There he learns that the youth ward is closed – and finds himself stuck in the adult ward. One of the patients, Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), soon becomes both Craig’s mentor and protege. Craig is also drawn to another 16-year-old, Noelle (Emma Roberts). With a minimum five days’ stay imposed on him, Craig is sustained by friendships on both the inside and the outside as he learns more about life, love, and the pressures of growing up.
Mao’s Last Dancer
(PG) • 117 minutes • On-screen here from 10/1/10 to 10/7/10
Director: Bruce Beresford
Starring: Chi Cao, Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan, Joan Chen, Amanda Schull
Synopsis: From Academy Award nominees Bruce Beresford (director, Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy), Jane Scott (producer, Shine) and Jan Sardi (screenwriter, Shine, The Notebook) comes the remarkable true story of ballet dancer Li Cunxin. Mao’s Last Dancer stars Chi Cao, a gifted dancer and principal at the Birmingham Royal Ballet making his impressive screen debut as Li. The cast is rounded out by Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan, Joan Chen and Amanda Schull.
(PG-13) • 103 minutes • On-screen here from 9/10/10 to 9/30/10
Director: Aaron Schneider
Starring: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek
Synopsis: Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) is a hermit who has no regard for anybody in the town or anyone who wants to get to know him. But one day, after a fellow old hermit has died and he hears people in the town telling stories about him, he decides that he needs to get these stories out in the public. He recruits Frank (Bill Murray), the local funeral home director, to host his own funeral. This way he can hear what everyone is saying about him, and get the truth to his past out in the open. But will he be able to get anybody to come? And will he be able to reveal his secrets?
The Girl Who Played With Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden)
(R) • 129 minutes • On-screen here from 8/20/10 to 9/9/10
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre
Synopsis: As computer hacker Lisbeth and journalist Mikael investigate a sex-trafficking ring, Lisbeth is accused of three murders, causing her to go on the run while Mikael works to clear her name.
The Kids Are All Right
(R) • 106 minutes • On-screen here from 7/30/10 to 8/19/10
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Starring: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska
Synopsis: “I can’t pretend to read the minds of people who passionately oppose letting gay people marry each other. If they assume that such marriages pose some anarchic challenge to the social order, I would point them towards writer-director Lisa Cholodenko’s generous and hilarious comedy “The Kids Are All Right.” Given the red-hot politics of the gay marriage issue, her timing is arguably perfect, and at any rate the movie is worth the wait. Cholodenko gets memorable performances from Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as the flawed, self-involved but profoundly human partners in a long-running relationship that’s hitting one of those slippery, middle-age danger zones. Nic (Bening) is a doctor, intensely driven and controlling, who’s sliding into that polite, socially acceptable, four-glasses-of-red-wine version of alcoholism. Jules (Moore) has a succession of failed careers and businesses behind her, and now Nic’s bankrolling another one, an eco-conscious landscape design business. They’ve slightly and subtly drifted apart. They probably don’t need a direct challenge to their family stability, but here it comes, in the person of roguish, motorcycle-riding Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who just happens to be the biological father of Nic and Jules’ teenage kids. Their eldest, Joni, has just turned 18 and made a call to the sperm bank that yielded half her genetic code. Her younger brother, Laser, is actually the one who wants to meet Paul, but it’s the ultra-bright, inquisitive Joni who forms a connection with him, and ends up hanging out at his organic mini-farm and restaurant, meeting his ultra-cool African-American business partner, and so on. Nic and Jules furiously resist the intruder at first, but despite their efforts Paul becomes a tentative, adjunct member of the family.
(R) • 91 minutes • On-screen here from 7/16/10 to 7/29/10
Directors: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Starring: John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill
Synopsis: “Cyrus is a crazy, certifiably hilarious and eerily mysterious little comedy written and directed by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark. The film’s structure is a skewed triangle. John C. Reilly is John, still a lost soul seven years after his divorce. (It doesn’t help that his ex, played by Catherine Keener, is about to remarry.) All the same, he’s trying to find himself in the wistful hope that there’s someone to find, and Marisa Tomei’s Molly convinces him that there is. Coming out of nowhere at a party John has forced himself to go to, she is everything he could have wished for — smart, kind, pretty and, in his ecstatic phrase, a sex angel in the bargain. The only complication is her tangled relationship with her 21-year-old son, Cyrus, who lives at home and is played by Jonah Hill. So far you know no more than you may have learned from the movie’s marketing campaign, and that’s the way it’s going to stay — not just because I don’t want to tell you more, but because I couldn’t tell you without discussing the pathology of it all, which the film scrupulously avoids doing. The Duplass brothers want us to savor the spectacle of John, Molly and Cyrus, not understand it to death. And there’s so much to savor: The quicksilver tone, sometimes guarded and sometimes confessional but always perfectly controlled; a sense of danger that ebbs and flows like a toxic tide; a quasidocumentary technique that seems to capture reality — or the trio’s alternate realities — on the fly, and three brilliant performances that revel in the shimmering weirdness of the script. Mr. Reilly has made a specialty of playing appealing nebbishes, but this John is something else — charmingly plaintive, quite consciously witty and improbably good company. Ms. Tomei can be touching without batting an eye, but her tough and tender Molly has a dreamy side that can turn her suddenly opaque. And Mr. Hill, a ubiquitous presence in youth comedies these days, shows himself to be a casual master of ambiguity; a chasm yawns between what Cyrus says and what he means. I’ve seldom seen a film in which three intelligent, articulate people make so many penetrating observations about themselves, and address their bizarre situation so directly, without providing, or indeed possessing, the slightest clue to what’s really going on. On the surface “Cyrus” operates as a bright, brittle farce that Feydeau might have enjoyed. Deeper down, though, lies the haunting question of whether honesty and candor — and the naked anger that flashes between the two men — can change that situation at all. Maybe they’re all exactly as crazy as they need to be.” – Wall Street Journal.
(PG-13) • 111 minutes • On-screen here from 7/9/10 to 7/15/10
Director: Neil Jordan
Starring: Colin Farrell
Synopsis: “Long before “glamour” was a word applied all too casually to movie stars and red-carpet gowns, it was a term used to denote an enchantment or spell, a thing that could either lull a human being into a dream state or suddenly make him feel fully and bracingly alive. Neil Jordan’s modern-day Irish fairy tale “Ondine” works that kind of glamour, at first offering us the illusion of pure, stolid ordinariness only to shift, before our eyes, into something darkly glittering and spectacular. The magic of “Ondine” is all beneath the surface like a shimmery school of fish. Colin Farrell is Syracuse, a worried-looking fisherman who, in the course of a normal day’s work, pulls up something quite extraordinary in his net — a girl who at first appears to be dead. But the girl turns out to be miraculously alive. This shy and exquisite creature makes it clear she doesn’t want to be seen by anyone other than Syracuse, and he brings her to a deserted house where she’ll be safe. Syracuse’s young daughter, Annie, is a sickly kid who desperately needs a kidney transplant. Syracuse adores her, but he’s estranged from her boozy mother; he himself sobered up after realizing he was letting Annie down, but he knows that in the small Irish coastal town where he lives, a burg bound by tradition, he’ll never be granted custody. Still, he tries to care for her as best he can. And when Annie discovers her father’s secret houseguest, she’s at first intrigued by her. Then she simply comes to like her. Is Ondine a magical creature or a disappointingly human one? Why can’t a person who’s a woman on the outside be a mermaid on the inside? Bachleda makes us believe in that possibility: She’s sexy not so much because of her nymphlike curves but because of everything her quizzical smile hides. No wonder Farrell’s Syracuse is alternately and simultaneously charmed by her, drawn to her and afraid of her. Around town, Syracuse is dogged by an old nickname, Circus, because in his drinking days he repeatedly played the role of the crazy loser clown. He’s no longer crazy and no longer a clown, but he’s still, for sure, a loser, and most of the people around him have little patience for him. As Syracuse, Farrell carries so much sadsack sorrow in his eyes that you fear nothing will ever go right for him. He’s scruffy, cautious, unwilling to accept the possibility of happiness: Next to the evanescent Ondine, he’s a rough-skinned, land-bound lion. But once he gets the gist of Ondine’s song, he becomes a shimmery creature too, albeit one with a five-o’clock shadow. The worst thing a movie can try to be is magical, perhaps because we need to believe that magic just happens. “Ondine” doesn’t strive for magic. Jordan acknowledges the world as a flawed place. But he also knows that the cracks in everyday life, even the ones so fine that sunlight can’t get through, are exactly where the glamour creeps in.” Movie Line.
(R) • 90 minutes • On-screen here from 6/25/10 to 7/8/10
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt
Synopsis: Two families, sort of neighbors in Manhattan, cross paths as they navigate marriage, parenthood of a teen, ennui, a first date, and end-of-life care. Rebecca and Mary are sisters; their cranky 91-year-old grandmother’s neighbors, Kate and Alex, run an upscale retro-furniture business, and will expand into her flat after she dies. Rebecca is quiet, without a boyfriend until a patient at the clinic where she works introduces her grandson. Mary is acerbic, stung by a recent breakup. Kate looks for meaning in her life, wondering if she should volunteer. Alex, too, is at loose ends. Their daughter, Abby, has zits and teenage moods. What does it mean to be good?
Mother and Child
(R) • 125 minutes • On-screen here from 7/2/10 to 7/15/10
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Starring: Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
Synopsis: Almost forty years ago, a young girl of fourteen has sex, gets pregnant, and gives her baby up for adoption. Fast-forwarding to the present day, we meet three very different women, each of whom struggles to maintain control of their lives. There’s Elizabeth, a smart and successful lawyer who uses her body to her advantage. Any time she feels that she doesn’t have the upper hand, and cannot control the situation, she uses her sex appeal – whether that be starting a romance with her boss when she suspects he is trying to start one himself, or finding some way to control her overly friendly neighbor and husband. Karen, meanwhile, is a bitter health care professional who obviously has a lot of heart but never shows it. She gave up a daughter at the age of fourteen (wonderfully shown rather than told, she is the young girl and mother of Elizabeth), and has never gotten over it – her bitterness inspiring her to lash out at everyone around her – even the gentle man at work who is undeniably drawn to her. Finally, Lucy is a woman who has failed to conceive with her husband, so she turns to adoption to make the family she desires.
The Secret In Their Eyes (El Secreto de sus Ojos)
(R) • 127 min • On-screen here from 6/18/10 to 6/24/10
Director: Juan Jose Campanella
Starring: Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil
Synopsis: “The Secret in Their Eyes, which won the Oscar this year for best foreign-language film, is a legal thriller, but it’s powerfully and richly imagined: a genre-busting movie that successfully combines the utmost in romanticism with the utmost in realism. The film is a finely wrought, labyrinthine entertainment whose corners and passageways will be discussed by moviegoers for hours afterward as they exit into the cool night air. The movie opens in 2000, and Espósito, gray-bearded, is at his desk, writing. It is twenty-five years after a murder, and the investigator, retired yet still fascinated by the case, is assembling his recollections of it. What he writes is played out by the actors, but he angrily throws away each recollection as an inadequate first draft, and that scene disappears from the screen. Campanella is seriously teasing us: Espósito may be dissatisfied with his prose, but what he depicts in these first-draft attempts actually happened. Back in 1974, Espósito chases the killer with the aid of his antic partner, Pablo Sandoval, and their cautious superior, Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a judge’s assistant. Educated in the United States, Irene is a tall, brilliant upper-class beauty with a big head of black hair. She’s clearly on her way to the top. Espósito is an intelligent man with penetrating dark eyes, but he’s not a lawyer, and the difference between them in income and status stops him from openly declaring his love for her, which she keeps hinting that she wants. Instead, he worries about Sandoval, an alcoholic genius who rises from the depths of a midday stupor in a bar and pulls together the clues that lead to the identity and the arrest of the murderer. Sandoval is a lovable mess, who, despite his gifts, can’t survive amid the chaos and the repression of Buenos Aires. Campanella has directed numerous episodes of “Law & Order.” He moves in for prolonged, emotionally wrenching closeups, as in a Garbo drama from the nineteen-thirties. He also does fluent and muscular sweeps: when Espósito and Sandoval first discover the murderer in a soccer stadium, the camera, exploding with animal energy, pursues him, loses him as he ducks down a ramp, and picks him up again. There may be no “signature” shot here, as in the work of an established auteur, but there’s an effortless mastery, from moment to moment, of whatever the dramatic situation requires.” – The New Yorker.
Letters to Juliet
(PG) • 105 min • On-screen here from 6/11/10 to 6/17/10
Director: Gary Winick
Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Amanda Seyfried, Gael García Bernal
Synopsis: “How ridiculously romantic is Letters to Juliet? How excessively dolce is this cinematic wish-fulfillment fantasy composed as a sonnet (with a pop-song backbeat) to good wine, beautiful people, Italian vineyards, the enduring power of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the enduring love between Vanessa Redgrave and Italian actor Franco Nero? Let me put it this way: It’s so shamelessly dreamy that not only does flaxen-haired Sophie (Amanda Seyfried, kissed by the camera), an aspiring writer with a mismatched fiancé, find true love on the sun-dappled back roads of Tuscany, but she also gets published in “The New Yorker!” On her first try! Redgrave shimmers like one of Tuscany’s magnificent cypress trees as an Englishwoman searching for Lorenzo (Nero), the Italian man she loved a half century earlier; generic Australian cutie Christopher Egan plays the strapping grandson by her side. (It’s a fantastical world indeed when Gael García Bernal plays the wrong man for fair Sophie.) But soft! Director Gary Winick and cinematographer Marco Pontecorvo fit together the fate-tossed stuff of mass-appeal love stories and the seductive imagery of travelogue vacation movies so smoothly that the sequel to “Letters to Juliet” might well be “Letters to Orbitz:” Find me a flight to Verona!” – Entertainment Weekly.
(PG) • 80 min • On-screen here from 5/28/10 to 6/17/10
Director: Thomas Balmes
Synopsis: “In a brilliant bit of scheduling, the gorgeously shot feature documentary “Babies” – which records the first year of life of four newborns, one each from San Francisco, Tokyo, Namibia and Mongolia – arrives in theaters just in time for Mother’s Day weekend. That only adds to the temptation to characterize it as a perfectly timed bit of mommy-targeted counterprogramming to “Iron Man 2, ” the weekend’s big-budgeted, high-decibeled other major release. But that doesn’t feel quite fair to “Babies.” Director Thomas Balmes’ wonderfully conceived and wonderfully realized film is more than that. With its pleasantly meditative vibe and its long, leisurely shots of babies being babies, his smile-inducing, blood-pressure-lowering movie needs no such qualifications. It is sweet, cuddly and irresistible in its own right. A big reason for that is Balmes’ approach, which is every bit as straightforward as his film’s title. He simply follows his button-cute subjects around and let them do their button-cute thing. No narration. No imposed storylines. Very little music. Even when the babies’ parents speak, Balmes resists the urge to offer subtitled translations. It’s a wonderful stroke of inspiration, since subtitles would only clutter things up. It doesn’t matter what the grown-ups are saying anyway. The babies do the talking in “Babies.” And the walking. And all the other things that babies do in their magical first year of life – and that’s the point of it all. Adding to the film is a bit of built-in irony that goes deeper than the mental image conjured by the concept of “Babies” vs. “Iron Man.” Namely, Balmes’ film – with its all-inclusive, multicultural approach – would appear to be a study in contrasts. Instead, however, it’s more a sly study in similarities. Western audiences are sure to be taken aback when Baby Bayar’s entire family – Mom, Dad, toddler brother and infant Bayar – board the family motorcycle, sans helmets, to trundle over the Mongolian plains. (“What? No child seat?!”) Likewise, they might be aghast at the way Namibia’s Baby Ponijao is allowed to taste every rock, stick and dirt clod within reach. (“What? No anti-bacterial lotion?!”) But for all the differences highlighted by the film, it’s impossible not to see how alike we are, such as when the scene-stealing Bayar makes a mess out of a roll of toilet paper, or in the way Japan’s Baby Mari dedicates herself to a tempter tantrum, or the way a curious Ponijao torments a surprisingly tolerant family pet. At the same time, “Babies” won’t expose the fundamental problem with veritae filmmaking: No matter how unobtrusive the camera, there’s no guarantee a film’s subjects really will be themselves, knowing in the back of their minds that the camera is whirring away in the corner. The babies of “Babies” are, of course, oblivious that their every move is being documented. “Babies” is about the babies, and they more than hold up their end of the bargain, helping make Balmes’ film a beautiful and entirely embraceable bit of cinema, and a welcome break from the pablum normally served up at theaters this time of year.” – New Orleans Times.
(R) • 114 min • On-screen here from 5/4/10 to 6/10/10
Director: Nash Edgerton
Starring: David Roberts, Claire van der Boom, Joel Edgerton
Synopsis: “After Carla comes across a satchel full of money that her loutish, vaguely criminal husband has stashed in a crawl space in the laundry room of their house, she and her lover, Ray, concoct a plan to snatch it and get out of town. What else would they do? And what could possibly go wrong? Quite a bit, of course, but Ray and Carla’s misfortunes are, in the perverse, tried-and-true logic of film noir, a boon to the audience, who can reap a clammy kind of satisfaction from a well-turned wallow in someone else’s depravity. “The Square,” which is the first feature directed by Nash Edgerton, an Australian stuntman turned filmmaker, is a gripping exercise in sin and comeuppance. Written by Matthew Dabner and Mr. Edgerton’s brother, Joel, it turns a humdrum Down Under backwater into a black hole of haphazard crime and arbitrary punishment. Ray and Carla’s mixture of lust, greed and desperation doesn’t make them all that unusual in this place, it turns out. Their amateurism is what sets them apart, and it is possible to feel sympathy for their weakness as well as disgust at their callous irresponsibility. Ray (David Roberts) makes a good living in construction, and is supervising the building of a vacation development. He is involved in some shady business dealings, but seems above all consumed by his infatuation with Carla (Claire van der Boom), who is much younger and who lives in a rougher, working-class part of town. Her husband, Smithy, is less a monster than a run-of-the-mill thug, with a ginger-colored mullet haircut and a dog who might be his better-looking canine cousin. When Carla finds Smithy’s hidden loot, she and Ray hire an arsonist to burn the house down, figuring that the fire will cover up their theft and give them time to escape. One of the pleasures of “The Square” is watching its intricate plot unfold. The accidents, complications and reversals that drive the movie forward feel less like the usual mechanical twists than like the perverse and ruthlessly logical operations of fate itself. “The Square” has comples a tour of moral squalor that is suspenseful, invigorating and sometimes harshly funny.” – New York Times.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor)
(R) • 152 min • On-screen here from 5/7/10 to 5/27/10
Directeor: Niels Arden Oplev
Starring: Michael Nyqvis, Noomi Rapace
Synopsis: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a compelling thriller to begin with, but it adds the rare quality of having a heroine more fascinating than the story. She’s a 24-year-old goth girl named Lisbeth Salander, with body piercings and tattoos: thin, small, fierce, damaged, a genius computer hacker. She smokes to quiet her racing heart. Lisbeth is as compelling as any movie character in recent memory. Played by Noomi Rapace with an unwavering intensity, she finds her own emotional needs nurtured by the nature of the case she investigates, the disappearance of a young girl 40 years earlier. As this case is revealed, memories of her own abused past return with a vengeance. Rapace makes the character compulsively interesting. She plays against a passive fortysomething hero, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), an investigative journalist who has six months of freedom before beginning a prison sentence for libel against a Swedish tycoon. Mikael, resourceful and intelligent, is hired by an elderly billionaire named Henrik Vanger, who inhabits a gloomy mansion on a remote island and broods about the loss of his beloved niece Harriet. She vanished one day when the island was cut off from the mainland. Her body was never found. Because the access bridge was blocked, the killer must have been a member of Vanger’s large and greedy family, which he hates. Three brothers were Nazi sympathizers during the war. Mikael covers a wall with photos of the suspects. But this is a new age, and in addition to his search of newspaper and legal archives, he uses the Internet. That’s how he comes across Lisbeth, who has been investigating him. She’s described as Sweden’s best hacker, a claim we have no reason to doubt, and the intensity of her focus, contrasted to her walled-off emotional life, suggests Asperger’s. They team up on the case and become efficient partners. The forbidding island setting, the winter chill, and the frosty inhabitants all combine with dread suspicions to create an uncommonly effective thriller. This is not a deep psychological study. But it’s a sober, grown-up film. It has action, but not the hyperkinetic activity that passes for action in too many American movies. It has sex, but not eroticism. Its male lead is brave and capable, but not macho. Its female lead is sexy in the abstract, perhaps, but not seductive or alluring. This is a movie about characters who have more important things to do than be characters in an action thriller. “ – Roger Ebert.
The Ghost Writer
(PG-13) • 128 min • On-screen here from 4/9/10 to 4/2910
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, James Belushi
Synopsis: “Topical and skillfully made, Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, the latest from the Polish master, takes the post-9/11 political climate and uses the tools for a display of his ingrained caustic wit and understanding of filmic suspense. A nameless scribe (Ewan McGregor) is hustled into a lucrative book deal to ghost-write the memoirs of recently deposed British Prime Minister Alan Lang (Pierce Brosnan, well cast with his smarmy ageing charm as a stand-in for Tony Blair). Lang’s book has been on hold since his previous ghost writer became a literal one under iffy circumstances along the shores of Lang’s property on Martha’s Island. Brought into Lang’s inner circle as everything erupts around the ex-PM’s condoning of illegal rendition while in office, the Ghost Writer picks up the threads left by his deceased predecessor. He’ll also find himself uncomfortably close to Lang’s discarded wife played by Olivia Williams, who has had a great comeback year with her supporting role in “An Education”. One of the adult thrills is seeing McGregor and Williams strike sparks off of each other with fine banter. Another joy is watching Polanski and Robert Harris adapting from his own novel take your standard hokum thriller and wring moments of brilliance out of it. Much of the action unfolds inside the Lang compound, a post-modern cement bunker that the protagonists of “Repulsion”, “The Tenant” and “Rosemary’s Baby” would feel a kinship with. I had deep reservation going into the film; any work featuring the supporting cast of Jim Belushi, Kim Cattrall and Timothy Hutton will do that to me. And yet I’ve forgotten an old rule that I’ve bludgeoned film-geek friends with in the past: A great director can make lesser actors look good, and in that regard Belushi, Catrall and Hutton are well cast.” – Daily Film Dose.
The Last Station
(R) • 112 min • On-screen here from 3/25/10 to 4/8/10
Director: Michael Hoffman
Starring: Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti, James McAvoy
Synopsis: “He was the celebrated author of “War and Peace,” but the last years of Leo Tolstoy’s life were all war and no peace. The savage rivalry for his attention and legacy between his redoubtable wife and his craftiest disciple that overshadowed his final days has now been turned into a showcase for tasty acting by performers who really know how to sink their teeth into roles. Under the accomplished direction of Michael Hoffman, who also wrote the script, “The Last Station” is well-acted across the board, but the film’s centerpiece is the spectacular back and forth between Christopher Plummer as the great man, a count as well as a writer, and Helen Mirren as Sofya, his wife of 48 years and always a force to be reckoned with. For those who enjoy actors who can play it up without ever overplaying their hands, “The Last Station” is the destination of choice. The notion for “The Last Station” came from writer Jay Parini, who was so fascinated to discover that numerous people around Tolstoy in the fatal year of 1910 kept diaries with their versions of events that he wrote a novel telling the story from six points of view. Hoffman’s screenplay simplifies this a bit but keeps the story’s fine sense of the complexities of human relationships, of the war in Tolstoy’s household between the welfare of family and the welfare of mankind.
(R) • 112 min • On-screen here from 2/26/10 to 3/25/10
Director: Scott Cooper
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell
Synopsis: “Crazy Heart is a small movie perfectly scaled to the big performance at its center. It offers some picturesque views of out-of-the-way parts of the American West, but the dominant feature of its landscape is Bad Blake, a wayward, aging country singer played by Jeff Bridges. Those last four words should be sufficient recommendation. Some of Mr. Bridges’s peers may have burned more intensely in their prime, but very few American actors over the past 35 years have flickered and smoldered with such craft and resilience. Neither blandly likable nor operatically emotional, this actor has a sly kind of charisma and a casual intelligence. Unlike Mr. Bridges, Bad, who is 57, seems to be running on the last fumes of his talent. He drives from one gig to another in a battered truck, playing bowling alleys and bars with local pickup bands and sleeping in less-than-deluxe accommodations. He smokes and drinks as if trying to settle a long-ago bet between his liver and his lungs about which he would destroy first. The chorus to his signature song (one of several written especially for Mr. Bridges) observes that “falling feels like flying, for a little while.” That time has long since passed for Bad, who is scraping the bottom and trying not to complain too much about it. Even in decline, Bad has enough professionalism to keep complete self-destruction at bay. Mr. Bridges, settling into Cooper’s understated script as if he’d written it himself, makes the answer both obvious and a little enigmatic. There is a playboy’s charm and an old-fashioned Southern courtliness half-hidden behind the weariness, the anger at squandered possibilities, the flabby gut and the unkempt beard. This fellow may be bad, but he’s also dignified. Bad’s own songs express this tension, as do other selections on the soundtrack, which help to establish this fictional musician’s place in the actual musical universe. His main connection to the current country scene is Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a former protégé who has hit the big time and whose support Bad both desperately wants and is sometimes too proud to accept. Tommy is part of a slick new breed that pays respect to the stalwarts of the past, but whose smoothness nonetheless gets under the skin of his sandpapery former mentor. There can never be too many songs about drinking, loving and feeling bad, and there is always room for another version of that old song about the guy who messed it all up and kept on going. Especially when that guy can play the tune as truly and as well as Jeff Bridges.” – New York Times
A Single Man
(R) • 99 min • On-screen here from 2/5/10 to 2/25/10
Director: Tom Ford
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode
Synopsis: It’s November 30, 1962. Native Brit George Falconer, an English professor at a Los Angeles area college, is finding it difficult to cope with life. Jim, his personal partner of sixteen years, died in a car accident eight months earlier when he was visiting with family. Jim’s family were not going to tell George of the death or accident, let alone allow him to attend the funeral. This day, George has decided to get his affairs in order before he will commit suicide that evening. As he routinely and fastidiously prepares for the suicide and post suicide, George reminisces about his life with Jim. But George spends this day with various people, who see a man sadder than usual and who affect his own thoughts about what he is going to do. Those people include Carlos, a Spanish immigrant/aspiring actor/gigolo recently arrived in Los Angeles; Charley, his best friend who he knew from England, she who is a drama queen of a woman who romantically desires her best friend despite his sexual orientation; and Kenny Potter, one of his students, who seems to be curious about his professor beyond English class.
(R) • 109 min • On-screen here from 1/29/10 to 2/4/10
Director: Lee Daniels
Starring: Mo’Nique, Gabourey Sidibe, Mariah Carey
Synopsis: “Part of the great power of movies is that they can take us perilously close to the life of someone we might otherwise feel perilously far from. The title character of “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” is a hushed, damaged, morbidly obese 16-year-old African-American girl from the lower depths of Harlem. It’s 1987, and Claireece Precious Jones is poor and ignorant, a depressed, withdrawn shell of a human being, with a face so inexpressive it might be a visor clamped down over her features. Gabourey Sidibe, the startling newcomer who plays Precious, is actually softly pretty, with catlike eyes that narrow into a tensely focused glare. Precious speaks to us in voice-over, and the film keeps cutting to her fantasies, which are spangly, TV-addict daydreams in which she whirls around in silk and feather boas, adored by the world. Outside those fantasies, Precious can’t imagine a life. She rarely talks, never smiles, and hardly even frowns; she looks like it would take too much effort. Sidibe plays her with barely visible tremors of feeling that cue us to what this arrested girl is holding back. She’s an almost totally passive protagonist, cut off from everyone, including us. Yet there’s nothing passive about the way the director, Lee Daniels, working from a script by Geoffrey Fletcher, plunges us into the nightmare that is Precious’ daily, hidden existence. Sometimes, a movie has to take you down to lift you up. “Precious” is that kind of movie. Daniels ushers us into the dingy Harlem flat where Precious lives, and there, amid the dank light and moldy yellow-flower wallpaper, we see the forces that have made her who she is. There are stinging flashbacks of abuse (she’s now pregnant, for the second time, by her drug-addict father), and we witness the Gordian knot of her relationship with her mother, Mary (Mo’Nique), who’s a scalding pit of bitterness. Their twisted and tormented co-dependence is harrowing to behold, but it’s also as indelible as something out of Tennessee Williams. In her first dramatic role, the comedian Mo’Nique acts with such force that she burns a hole in the screen. Her Mary is raging and defeated, a woman who treats Precious as a slave. Their agony has roots. What’s The Tripfying about the abuse here is how casually it’s accepted as a fact of life, by both perpetrator and victim. Mary hates her daughter because she thinks that Precious has ”stolen” her man. Yet she also exploits her as a welfare ticket. How to escape this hell? One night, the two get a visit from a school administrator, who wants to enroll Precious in a special program for problem students. Quietly, almost instinctively, Precious signs up. The program becomes her pathway out of the madness and into a real life. Precious comes to the attention of a welfare counselor, played by Mariah Carey with an authentically deglammed compassion, and once she’s in the class, she starts to wake up. These episodes aren’t the usual inspirational claptrap; they’re about troubled girls striving, and often failing, to turn themselves around. The more Precious tries to get away from her mother, the more she’s pulled back. “Precious” captures how a lost girl rouses herself from the dead, and Daniels shows unflinching courage as a filmmaker by going this deep into the pathologies that may still linger in the closets of some impoverished inner-city lives. “Precious” is a film that makes you think, ”There but for the grace of God go I.” It’s a potent and moving experience, because by the end you feel you’ve witnessed nothing less than the birth of a soul. A” – Entertainment Weekly
The Young Victoria
(PG) • 100 min • On-screen here from 1/8/10 to 2/4/10
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Paul Bettany
“Control is the central theme of “The Young Victoria,” a sumptuous and appealing costume drama that allows us a glimpse of the young Princess’ vulnerable journey to ruling monarch and wife. Emotions and heart play a big part in Julian Fellowes’ script, which in the capable hands of Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée involve us as surely as the pomp and ceremony at Buckingham Palace. History is used as a backdrop to the main event, being the relationships of Emily Blunt’s Victoria. Blunt is lovely, delivering just the right mix of feisty, vulnerable and stubborn to engage us in her conflicted, manipulated world. When we first meet Blunt’s Victoria, she admits to feeling like a chess piece moved against her will. The undercurrent of power-play surrounds her, with her controlling Duchess mother (Miranda Richardson), who together with Mark Strong’s scheming Sir John Conroy, is eager to assume the role of joint Regents to the throne. But Victoria shows her spirit from the start, refusing to sign the documents and smiles openly at the suggestion from Rupert Friend’s dashing suitor Prince Albert to master the rules of the game in order to play it better than those around her. Paul Bettany’s Prime Minister Lord Melbourne becomes a convincing ally, until his own agenda becomes obvious. Is it consideration and helpfulness on his part to provide her with staff, or is it for his own political end? The film finally finds its way to the budding romance between the beautiful Victoria and charismatic Albert, who himself is a pawn in a game of control by his father King Leopold of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann). Blunt and Friend have a nice chemistry as their characters manage to find a way of making their relationship work. Jim Broadbent may not have much screen time, but makes every moment count as the ailing King whose throne Victoria will inherit. Patrice Vermette’s production impresses through Hagen Bogdanski’s lens and an oomphy score comprising Schubert, Handel and Strauss colours our emotional palettes. The film looks gorgeous with plush settings and stunning gowns, while Blunt photographs like a dream. I couldn’t help thinking if they ever make a bio-pic about Princess Margaret, Emily Blunt would be perfect in the lead role. She even looks like her.” – Urban Cinefile. Coco Before Chanel (PG-13)(110 min) Played Friday, January 1st through Thursday, January 7th, 2010 Directed by Anne Fontaine Starring: Audrey Tautou “”In order to be irreplaceable,” said the legendary French couturier Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel,” one must always be different.” The very feminine, very inward-looking French biopic “Coco Before Chanel” examines the influences that made Chanel so different — and so irreplaceable — the way an observant fashion student might deconstruct an haute couture garment to understand how it’s built. The woman who became Chanel grew up a poor, skinny orphan in a convent school, where she learned sewing as a trade. She idled in her early years as a cabaret singer, lived with one protective rich man while falling in love with another, and hewed to a life of unmarried independence that hid a tough, sad heart. “Coco Before Chanel” is dreamiest when director Anne Fontaine — working through muse Audrey Tautou — views the world through young Coco’s eyes, literally. We see the girl look at nuns’ habits and, later, admire her lovers’ masculine wardrobe; the next thing you know, she’s cutting up men’s shirts and freeing generations of women from the tyranny of corsets and flounce. Tautou is a fascinating, unsmiling, petite presence with a severe brow and an androgynous appeal, so much so that I wish Alessandro Nivola (“Junebug”) were a more robust beau as Arthur “Boy” Capel, the love of Chanel’s life. Still, Tautou looks great in the boy clothes — the foundation of Coco Chanel’s womanly empire.” – Entertainment Weekly.