Reviews

Empire’s 4-star review raves “Spielberg has brought a boy’s heart, an artist’s guile, and a movie-lover’s wit” to Tintin:

From the Nouvelle Vague flourish of the opening credits, featuring Tintin in silhouette dashing past giant typewriters and former foes, recalling the Saul Bass-themed curtain raiser of Catch Me If You Can, set off by John Williams’ fleet-fingered piano score, the mood is set. Here is a joyful play of opposites: the romance of old-school cinema, conjured by the slick synthesis of CG wizardry.

Vitally, as near as can be, here too is the ardent, moules-frites aroma of Hergé’s rainbow-lovely world of high adventure and colloquial antics. Spielberg’s first venture into animation (we’ll stick with that) expands the Belgian’s formal elegance into a wonderland of digital detail without ever losing sight of the bubbly charm of the books. Encompassing the shovel chins and bobbled noses of the Hergéian caricatures, Weta pursues a whimsical variation on photoreal. But it’s not just about the flour-fine textures of sand or gunpowder, the flicker of firelight across a blade or a breeze ruffling Tintin’s unbendable forelock. This is also an expansion of the Spielbergian dream (with a tincture of Jackson’s boldness). Like a boy set free from the schoolroom of reality, he lets fly.

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Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman says The Ides of March is George Clooney’s best film yet as director:

Actors who become directors tend to focus on performance at the expense of everything else. Clooney certainly brings out the best in his actors, but his driving trait as a filmmaker is that he knows what plays — he has an uncanny sense of how to uncork a scene and let it bubble and flow.

The movie is a grippingly dark and cynical drama of insider politics, set during the days leading up to an Ohio Democratic presidential primary. Ryan Gosling, proving that he can flirt with sleaze and still make you like him, stars as Stephen Meyers, the idealistic but also shrewdly opportunistic press secretary to Gov. Mike Morris (played by Clooney), a soulful and articulate Obama-in-2008-esque candidate who is promising a new kind of politics.

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There is a reason we have long since married our American spirit to baseball, and a reason why it’s the only sport with any romanticism attached to it, and there’s a reason why the camera loves baseball movies.  The crack of the ball hitting the bat, that ten seconds of waiting to see where the ball will go, writing your ending off a wing and a prayer.  But it isn’t just the hit, it’s the catcher, the pitcher, the outfielder, the umpire – it’s the three strikes – it’s the boys of summer, the cheering fans, and it’s the movies.  The relationship of baseball to the big screen is as American as rolled up blue jeans, the Mississippi Delta and the stuff of dreams – the audacity of imagining the impossible.

America and baseball and movies – this enduring love story is revived once again in Bennett Miller’s subtle, effective telling of the Oakland A’s inexplicable winning streak, turning their own history around with the help of statistical analysis.  One of the key lines in the film is about money – “money is never a reason to do anything.”  Yet the big show, we know, is almost all about money – how much can you afford to pay a player to win the game?  Can you still play the game if you can’t come up with the millions of dollars it takes?

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IndieWIRE’s Oliver Lyttelton

…Arnold eschewed the starry route when she took the job, casting mostly unknown teens and twentysomethings in the key roles. Was this some craven attempt to appeal to “Twilight” fans (the book being a favorite of characters within the vampire franchise)? More importantly, would Arnold taking on such well-known literary material lead to her abandoning what made her earlier work so special, and turning out yet another airless costume drama? Happily, not in the least, in either case. While Brontë purists might take issue with some of Arnold’s creative decisions, they also manage to make it a radical, but entirely successful, version, one that might be her most uncompromising film yet. It might be a period piece, but that doesn’t mean Arnold is pulling her punches.

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Sideways is a perfect film.  The more you watch it the more of itself it reveals.  It is a story of a greatly flawed man who clatters selfishly forward — his book, his breakup, his misery.  If he is given any redemption by the film’s end it’s because he comes to terms with being an asshole.  But The Descendants is about more than one’s own personal journey of self-discovery; it is about selflessness, and how most of us are really here not to polish our own knobs 24/7 but to look out for others, especially those we’re responsible for, those we’re leaving behind.

I loved this film.

One must be cautious this time of year not to spill over with enthusiasm only to see a truly wonderful film such as this deflate during awards season for every reason except the only right one — that it isn’t good enough. It’s plenty good enough. But that might not stop people from wanting to hate it (in the end, we’re fairly petty creatures, truth be told).  Although it’s positioned as a major Oscar contender, and from the looks of it, it should meet those expectations, it is a movie that can thankfully transcend the need for validation from those 6,000 voting members.

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Todd McCarthy in Venice for The Hollywood Reporter:

“We have to go into uncharted territory,” the psychiatrist Carl Jung observes in regard to his own pioneering work, and the complex, fascinating topic of Jung’s and Sigmund Freud’s touchy relationship and eventual falling out over a beautiful, sexually hysterical patient has been grippingly explored by director David Cronenberg and writer Christopher Hampton in A Dangerous Method. Precise, lucid and thrillingly disciplined, this story of boundary-testing in the early days of psychoanalysis is brought to vivid life by the outstanding lead performances of Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender. Sure to be well received by festival audiences in Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York…

UPDATE: More McCarthy, and excerpts from another favorable review, after the cut.

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Joe Neumaier at the New York Daily News gave Rise of the Planet of the Apes its first grade-A 100 rating. Now TIME’s Richard Corliss agrees with another perfect score. Corliss says Rupert Wyatt’s film “deserves to be in the company of the great original Kong. This year’s sixth ‘origins’ story of a fantasy franchise is also the year’s finest action movie.”

No question, the movie is an astounding triumph of visual effects. Again, Serkis is playing a motion-capture monkey — the prime primate, Caesar — and gives a performance so nuanced and powerful it may challenge the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to give an Oscar to an actor who is never seen in the film

The original film was a satire of race relations, in the decade of the Selma marches and Watts riots, with the haughty apes treating their human invaders as inferiors. Rise is a story of emancipation as seen from both sides: the human (sympathetic liberals incapable of stanching an armed revolt) and the simian (we gotta be free).

Even if you don’t buy Rise as a semiprofound social document, the utterly seductive integration of apes and men should slacken your jaw in amazement. We have reached that moment in movie history when the century-long chasm between live action and animation has been closed; Rise is a seamless blend of the two. It marks a major advance over Avatar, for it allows the motion-capture actors and the “real” ones to interact in natural locations — in the wild, so to speak — beyond Avatar’s enclosed fantasyland of the planet Pandora. Technical innovation is sometimes yoked to leaden narratives, but Wyatt and his collaborators made sure to wed their visual strategies to potent themes. The result is a work of high, often thrilling popular art.

UPDATE: Rack up two 90s from the LATimes and WSJournal.

The best movies you never see coming. Into the Age of Anxiety comes this redux of the familiar Planet of the Apes series which relies heavily on that familiarity as it charges forward into uncharted territory. That territory is part breathtaking technology, part human self-loathing for what we’ve done, who we’ve become and our own despairing hopelessness about our future, and part rumination of the animal within: it all vibrates and quakes in this, one of 2011’s best films.

Never underestimate the element of surprise. Expectations weren’t running high — the thinking was it would be as campy as the old Planet of the Apes movies or worse, as bad as the Tim Burton one. What most weren’t expecting, of course, was that the Rise of the Planet of the Apes would be so character driven: because the technology is now seamless, there is very little separation between our awe and our emotional reaction. But still, with a movie like this there will always be those who refuse to take it seriously because technology is scary, which of course, is part of the film’s central theme.

The reason to see this movie is marvel at what we can now do with motion capture if you have the right actor (Andy Serkis) and the right FX (WETA), and a director (Rupert Wyatt) knows how to tell a good story; it’s almost shocking, for instance, how long it takes the movie to get going. It takes its time without rushing the audience headlong into the action. We get little hints of it here and there but at some point it sinks in that we’re not going to get the non-stop action and violence to which our ADD culture has become accustomed. So the audience dials it down, sits back and absorbs this odd character Caesar.

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Reviews from the L.A. trades and London papers come tumbling in tonight, and critics are overwhelming happy with the grand finale of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2.

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:

It ends well. After eight films in 10 years and a cumulative global box-office take of more than $6.3 billion, the most successful franchise in the history of movies comes to an obligatory — and quite satisfying — conclusion in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Fully justifying the decision, once thought purely mercenary, of splitting J.K. Rowling’s final book into two parts, this is an exciting and, to put it mildly, massively eventful finale that will grip and greatly please anyone who has been at all a fan of the series up to now…

Initially working in what seemed too straightforward and briskly efficient a manner, Yates has finally come into his own in this last installment, orchestrating a massive chessboard of events with impressive finesse and a stronger sense of dramatic composition than he has previously displayed.

But perhaps the key player all along has been screenwriter Steve Kloves, who made what must have been a vexing decision to put a promising directorial career on hold for more than a decade to write all but one of the Potter episodes (though confessing exhaustion and the need of a break, he later expressed regret over not adapting The Order of the Phoenix). Tricky in that so many characters, including quite a few from the past, needed to be shuffled into the dramatic deck without sacrificing forward momentum, this final chapter suggests an even greater-than-usual attention to narrative balance and refinement. Simply put, it’s clear the filmmakers felt the responsibility to do this job right, and that they have.

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“Production Values!” EW’s Lisa Schwatzbaum says Super 8 is “a great specimen of original storytelling grounded in a sophisticated respect for storytellers who have come before.”

Loving, Playful, and spectacularly well made, Super 8 is easily the best summer movie of the year — of many years. And I make that declaration with full knowledge that the season has just begun. It’s been eons since a movie has conjured up such intense, specific feelings, images, memories, and nostalgic fantasies about American summertime youth — everyone’s American summertime youth, regardless of current age, nationality, sex, or climate. It’s been ages since adolescent innocence, fatherly authority, and everyday awe were in movie vogue. This irresistible story of middle-school-age kids who set out to make a zombie flick, accidentally witness a sensational train crash, and become involved in a tale of extraterrestrial mystery straight out of an E.T.-era Steven Spielberg pic may leave viewers dumbstruck: How have we survived for so long on such a meager, high-cal, low-nutrition diet of processed summertime superhero sequels?

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The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw says Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In “has a fanatical intensity… It is twisted and mad, and its choreography and self-possession are superb… ”

The Skin I Live In is adapted from the 2003 novel Mygale (Tarantula) by Thierry Jonquet, but clearly Almod√≥var has taken something from Georges Franju’s 1960 film Eyes Without a Face and possibly also Alejandro Amen√°bar’s Open Your Eyes from 1997. It is also conceivable that he wants us to think of Evelyn Waugh’s story Love Among the Ruins.

But influences and allusions are almost beside the point, given the fact that almost every scene, every shot, must remind you of every other Almod√≥var picture. As ever, it is sleek and stylishly furnished, sensually charged with richness and colour, and splashes and gashes of red. There is a surging Hitchcockian orchestral score and a breathless sense of imminent violence: handguns are coolly disclosed in desk-drawers and expensive ladies’ handbags; crime scenes are established in stunning overhead shots.

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Searching for answers, waiting for miracles Рthese seem to be the themes that make up many of the best films so far to play here at the Cannes Film Festival and Melancholia is certainly one of the best of those. You still won’t find any answers to life’s biggest questions here. This is a film about the end of the world, or it’s a film about the end of a family, a marriage, stability or sanity. Interpret it as you will, though if you want a literal telling of the plot, it’s broken down in two distinct sections.

The first is called Justine, and is about Kirsten Dunst’s marriage to Alexander Skarsgard. We enter their world after the wedding, as the guests begin to celebrate the union it becomes clear that something is wrong. The mother of the bride (Charlotte Rampling) can’t bring herself to say anything nice. No one seems happy for the young marrieds except Justine’s sister, Claire who has arranged everything perfectly Рeven the cutting of the cake is timed to the minute.

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Some films aren’t designed to be watched and absorbed in two hours. They need repeated viewings over the years; they beg for their audience to grow along with them, their meaning evolving over time. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 is one of those. Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life is another.

Usually a film like this will leave you silent at the end of it, as you begin to make sense of what you’ve just seen and what it all means. If you’re lucky, maybe you have someone with you that you can chew the fat with, someone who will toss ideas and questions back and forth about the movie. We used to call this, “let’s go get coffee and talk about it,” now we call it Twitter.

Therefore, when a movie like Tree of Life is finally seen at the Cannes Film Fest, and in London and later in New York and Los Angeles, the conversation about it will take place loudly and wildly on Twitter. That usually means snap judgments are made and sides are taken. The discussion first at bat was whether or not the French audiences booed the Terrence Malick film. They did boo it. They booed it immediately, taking no time to think it over. Much of the rest of the audience did sit silent and still before breaking into applause. One of the reasons that it took so long for the applause was that people weren’t sure if it was over or not. It wasn’t until Malick’s name appeared on the screen that the audience knew for sure it was over.

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There really aren’t adequate words to describe the way one feels after watching Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist. Appropriately enough, words fail. When The King’s Speech’s ad campaign led with “some movies you feel” I wanted to cringe. But here I am faced with a film that really does deserve the slogan because you DO feel it. You feel it from the top of your head all the way down to the toes of your feet: pure joy, pure happiness.

We were all wondering what to expect when we heard about this last-minute entry into the festival – a silent film and in black and white. Most of us were thinking it would be more of the grim stuff Cannes has been digging up so far – abuse, alienation, torture, child molestation. Not knowing anything about the director or the actor, I went in with a blank slate.

And a blank slate is exactly how you, dear reader, should also see The Artist. I advise, therefore, not reading any reviews at all. But if you’re curious about it, you can certainly read beyond this point. I will try my best not to spoil the good parts.

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(Watch the trailer for Michael below).)

Markus Schleinzer‚Äôs deeply disturbing portrait of a child molester is one of several films at Cannes this year that depict children being treated cruelly. Polisse is another, but Ma√Øwenn’s film draws a distinct moral line though the graphic nature of the crimes — the constant verbal pummeling threatens to make us sick and we may even begin to look differently at people we pass on the street. Schleinzer‚Äôs film doesn’t define the line so sharply because it clearly doesn‚Äôt have to.

Critics of the film will say it’s never really explained why Michael decides to capture a young boy, build a cellar where he’ll live, provide the child with nothing but the bare necessities to survive while regularly molesting him. But there’s no single turning point when the film needs to shift our sympathies against Michael. He’s the protagonist we’ve got, for better or worse (or, rather, from bad to worst). We‚Äôre to put Hitchcock‚Äôs theory to the test — to choose for ourselves whether or not we’re able to identify with the villain as the film goes along. Hopefully most of us won’t feel for the criminal. All we ultimately want to see is for the boy to somehow get away.

Here in America, our nightly cop dramas cannot tear themselves away from grim tales of child sexual torture. It seems as if our greatest fear has become our latest obsession as well. Do we simply like to sit and bear witness when the cops bring these creeps down? Or is there something more lurid lurking as we watch?

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Some Mother’s Son: We Need to Talk About Kevin

So many times now we’ve had to endure another tragic news story Рsome disgruntled teen has shot the whole school down and then killed himself.  Sympathy goes to the victims and their parents, as well it should. Hatred and blame have to go somewhere, especially when the shooter has taken his own life.  The first thought on everyone’s mind is always “what kind of a mother could raise such a monster?”

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Sasha’s review will be up shortly. Until then, we’re seeing a range of mostly deep enthusiasm from other critics blown away to various degrees today.

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a lot of things: A visual essay on the color red, a triumph of sound design and musical-visual counterpoint, a chronologically disordered, collage-style portrait of a family’s disintegration; a character study of a woman who surrendered her urbanity and her independence for her family and reaps the whirlwind from those seeds of bitterness. It’s also a non-American director’s movie about the soullessness of American suburbia, which bothers me some because it’s so hackneyed but might bother me more if it weren’t so convincingly rendered. But when you break it down to essentials, it’s a monster movie — and I think all discussion of its craft and subtlety (which are considerable) or about how great or how evil it is are constrained by that fact.

The monster isn’t Eva, although she may have some doubts about that. The monster is her lithe and handsome teenage son Kevin (played by Ezra Miller in the present tense, and even more unnervingly by Jasper Newell as an almost affectless younger child), who has, we gather, committed an unspeakable, headline-grabbing crime. We know that from the beginning of the movie, by the way; Ramsay hopscotches compulsively backward and forward through time, frequently alighting on the night when Eva must push her way through a crowd of stricken onlookers and emergency vehicles surrounding her son’s high school. It’s the scale of Kevin’s monstrous act, and its tangled prehistory, that are gradually revealed.

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No surprise critics are finding the golden indie elements of a Sundance premiere, Fox Searchlight, director Tom McCarthy and Paul Giamatti a winning combination. David Edelstein, New York Magazine:

It‚Äôs not clear what the title refers to specifically, but the movie has ‚Äúwin win‚Äù all over it. The smarts of the writer-director, Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor), are on view from the opening shot, the camera behind Giamatti on a jogging path as he staggers to a halt, stares ahead at nothing, and gets passed on either side by a pair of peppy runners…

This is a symphony of marvelous voices: Giamatti’s most of all, and also Bobby Cannavale as his best friend, Terry, a hearty flake who attaches himself to the wrestling team to forget his failed marriage. Shaffer, a young wrestler in his acting debut, uses his lack of film experience to suggest a lack of life experience, uncomfortably contained until he opens up in the gymnasium, the master of his tiny realm.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

Director Tom McCarthy is some kind of wizard. Continue reading…

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Best to use the word ‘rave’ sparingly, especially in headlines, but when it’s the right word for the job I’m proud to type it. True Grit emerges now undeniably as an awards force to be reckoned with. Manohla Dargis, The New York Times:

The first ‚ÄúTrue Grit‚Äù opened in New York in early July 1969, a week after ‚ÄúThe Wild Bunch,‚Äù the Sam Peckinpah western that‚Äôs widely seen as a metaphor about interventionist follies like Vietnam and that remains an enduring evisceration of the genre. The Coens, who like to play with genre, often with giggles and winks, haven‚Äôt mounted an assault on the western. But in Mattie they have created a character whose single-minded pursuit of vengeance has unmistakable resonance…

Avenging her father and keeping close track of her family’s expenses are what preoccupy Mattie, a richly conceived and written eccentric, as memorable on the page as she is now on screen. Softened for the first film, she has been toughed up again by the Coens so that she resembles the seemingly humorless if often unintentionally humorous Scripture-quoting martinet of Mr. Portis’s imagination. At times she brings to mind D. H. Lawrence’s famed formulation that “the essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” At other times, as when she wears her dead father’s oversize coat and hat, she looks like a foolish child left to perilous play.

Kenneth Turan, The LA Times, after the cut:

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Ebert’s 3 1/2-star review phrased in terms of 4-star esteem:

I’m describing the story and the film as if it were simply, if admirably, a good Western. That’s a surprise to me, because this is a film by the Coen Brothers, and this is the first straight genre exercise in their career. It’s a loving one. Their craftsmanship is a wonder. Their casting is always inspired and exact. The cinematography by Roger Deakins reminds us of the glory that was, and can still be, the Western.

But this isn’t a Coen Brothers film in the sense that we usually use those words. It’s not eccentric, quirky, wry or flaky. It’s as if these two men, who have devised some of the most original films of our time, reached a point where they decided to coast on the sheer pleasure of good old straightforward artistry… So let me praise it for what it is, a splendid Western. The Coens having demonstrated their mastery of many notes, including many not heard before, now show they can play in tune.

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