In "Lady with the Dog," Dimitri(Alexei Batalov) is content to just… MoreIn "Lady with the Dog," Dimitri(Alexei Batalov) is content to just relax when taking his vacation alone at Yalta. That is until he hears news of a beguiling new visitor who usually appears walking her dog. After meeting Anna(Iya Savvina), her and Dimitri spend a lot of time together, often going on excursions together. After her husband fails to materialize at the expected hour, she goes to Dimitri's room with him.
"Lady with the Dog" has certain things going for it such as its beautifully evocative cinematography and the fact that criticizing the aristocracy like it is here never goes out of style. At the same time, the movie, in making a good case for the characters' yearning for each other leading to them being trapped in an existential amber of their own making, ironically ends up leaving the viewer feeling much the same. That is due to this being based on an Anton Chekhov short story that is stretched almost to its breaking point. And that's not to mention lead actors who act like they are in entirely different movies.
"Illusion Travels by Streetcar" starts with Caireles(Carlos Navarro)… More"Illusion Travels by Streetcar" starts with Caireles(Carlos Navarro) and Tarrajas(Fernando Soto) going above the call of duty by repairing a trolley car well ahead of schedule. And then almost get fired for their efficiency. So, they decide to do the only reasonable thing and get drunk that night, just as they have to perform in a religious pageant. Once the beer runs out, they decide to appropriate some more for themselves. It doesn't stop there, however, as the guys also borrow the repaired trolley car for a ride.
It is one thing to make a period piece about the tragedy of the triumph of the car over mass transit and quite another as Luis Bunuel does with his entertaining "Illusion Travels by Streetcar" to do it as it is happening.(The scenes involving the corn meal shortage escape me, as they are probably very much of this specific time and place.) That's even though the story gets off to a rough start, especially the religious pageant which is probably Bunuel just practicing on one of his pet issues. But once it does, the film moves nicely, engagingly proving the universal constant that mass transit is a melting pot for a city's classes, much to the ignorance of the transit's bosses.
In "Desire," Cecile(Deborah Revy) cannot decide how to properly… MoreIn "Desire," Cecile(Deborah Revy) cannot decide how to properly dispose of her father's ashes. Meanwhile, her friend Matt(Gowan Didi) has other things on his mind, like his shy girifriend Alice's(Helene Zimmer) seeming unwillingness to go any further in their relationship. That is not a problem that Cecile's unemployed boyfriend Chance(Johnny Amaro) has, as he has to fight off her advances.
So, what do you do with a movie like "Desire?" It is undeniably erotic in more than a few scenes while also containing a rape scene. Some might say that such explicitness is pornography. But say what you will about pornography but at least it knows what it wants to do, however unrealistically. On the other hand, "Desire" makes a random feint towards realism by bringing up unemployment and a labor strike once or twice while being framed by shower scenes shot at waist level. And all of that is wrapped in Cecile's daddy issues.
Some teenagers imagine losing their virginity as a romantic rite of… MoreSome teenagers imagine losing their virginity as a romantic rite of passage. And then there is Maggie(Olivia Harris) who just wants to get it over with her boyfriend Ryan(Cody Linley) in the family garage. Even that does not go as planned, as her mother(Molly Parker) soon arrives home, followed by her father(John Hawkes), a lawyer. And eventually the neighbors(Lydia Mackay & Jonathan Brooks).
For the record, we have been here before plenty of times. Specifically, 1975 when parents were behaving badly and children were left to pick up the pieces.(Actually, Molly Parker was also already, in the late lamented television series "Swingtown" which covered a lot of the same ground.) And then there is the fact that the filmmakers seem to be using the film solely to work out some long festering parental issues here.(To be honest, if I had four kids, I would drink heavily, snort cocaine, inject heroin...oh you get the drill. Just be thankful I'm never having kids.)
But beneath all of those tired cliches, "The Playroom" gets right how in larger families older kids take care of the younger ones. Plus, the movie is artfully constructed with a neat use of camera and voiceovers to give a dreamy effect to the proceedings. And each in their own way Molly Parker and John Hawkes are both excellent but you knew that already.
To his eternal consternation, Judge Dredd(Karl Urban) is saddled with… MoreTo his eternal consternation, Judge Dredd(Karl Urban) is saddled with a new partner in the person of Cassandra Anderson(Olivia Thirlby), a rookie with subpar scores but with promising psychic abilties. They are called to investigate a triple slaying. While attempting to talk to some suspects, they come across Kay(Wood Harris) who Anderson says has a 99% chance of being involved with another murder which is enough to detain but not to shoot on sight. That's when the judges' problems start, courtesy of Ma-Ma(Lena Headey), the local drug kingpin.
The surprising thing about "Dredd," an entertaining and violent throwback that feels like a long lost John Carpenter 70's B-movie, is that along with its references to Greek mythology(if so, then who is the minotaur in the maze here?), it's that after some middling independent movies, this of all things turns out to be Olivia Thirlby's coming out movie, cast very much against type. Seriously, this is her film, as almost everything we see in this exaggerated detailed world is through Anderson's eyes and how this changes her.(It also explains the real reason why Anderson does not wear a helmet.) And it is fun watching Dredd as his vaunted rules slowly lose meaning in such a chaotic running situation. While the psychic abiltiies are a contrivance, admittedly they do keep the movie running smoothly. However, "Dredd" could have definitely used more of Lena Headey which one could say of most movies, really.
In "A Bird of the Air," Lyman(Jackson Hurst, of "Drop Dead Diva") is a… MoreIn "A Bird of the Air," Lyman(Jackson Hurst, of "Drop Dead Diva") is a loner who works nights for the New Mexico highway department. Otherwise, he spends his free time taking classes at the local community college and eats at a nearby diner. That holds true until an exotic parrot drops into his lap at the trailer where he lives. While researching the true owner of the parrot and the meaning behind his enigmatic sayings, Lyman runs into Fiona(Rachel Nichols, of "The Inside," "Alias," and "Continuum" but not the Rachel Nichols who works for ESPN), an itinerant librarian.
"A Bird of the Air" is a engaging and amusing romantic comedy that refreshingly relies on a cute dog for its charm this time around, instead of the usual cute baby. Beneath the surface, the movie is about the quest for knowledge and how that can improve one's life, with the mythical west as a background. That's not to mention Rachel Nichols' winning goofy performance in a definite change of pace for her.
While driving around Paris with a bloodied body in his back seat,… MoreWhile driving around Paris with a bloodied body in his back seat, Julien(Vincent Lindon), a university professor, thinks back on happier times like him and his beautiful wife Lisa(Diane Kruger) going at it like rabbits, even with the infant son they have. That all changes when Lisa is convicted of killing her boss. Fearing that she cannot survive prison for long, Julien gets desperate thoughts in what he can do to help.
"Pour Elle" is a Hollywood-style thriller about the crazy things we do for love that of course Hollywood screwed up when it turned it into "The Next Three Days" by taking the former's elegant shorthand and turning it into the latter's drawn out longhand. Plus, I'll take the more vulnerable and expressive Vincent Lindon over Russell Crowe. Granted, "Pour Elle" still is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, as it suffers from a daft plot and a mismatched couple. But it moves so quickly that it does not really allow the audience to ask many questions along the way.
"Closed Curtain" starts with a writer(Kambozia Partovi) arriving at a… More"Closed Curtain" starts with a writer(Kambozia Partovi) arriving at a beach house. Hidden in his luggage is a dog which the regime in Iran is taking a very hard line against. That is depicted by some very graphic news footage, so the writer takes the batteries out of the television so the dog will not be traumatized any more. He also puts up curtains all around the house. That however does not stop siblings Reza(Hadi Saeedi) and Melika(Maryam Moghadam) from knocking on his door while on the run from the authorities. So, while Reza looks for a way out, he leaves behind his sister, while warning about her suicidal tendencies.
"Closed Curtain" is proof positive that you can't keep a good man down or a good director from making movies. And it's especially impressive considering what Jafar Panahi has concocted here, a story told on two separate levels of reality, and without an effects shot either.(I mean yes there are sound effects used in order to emulate action just off camera but those don't really count.) That is done in the most playfully meta way possible to show the Iranian authorities and the world at large what kind of movies Panahi could make if only he were allowed. Except that is exactly the kind of movie he has made, with an emphasis on such Iranian taboos as dogs, suicide and unrelated men and women inhabiting the same space. And just remember that it is not showing off if you are this good.
"For Ellen" starts with Joby(Paul Dano), a musician, driving into a… More"For Ellen" starts with Joby(Paul Dano), a musician, driving into a snow bank when he eats and drives one morning. He is in the middle of nowhere to finalize the divorce with his estranged wife Claire(Margarita Levieva) but then balks at the fine print. At least, in the meantime, he gets an invitation for home cooked lasagna.
Ever since the invention of drama, it has been debated whether or not there could be an excellent performance in a lackluster play or movie. Well, I would like to submit the dramatically uneven "For Ellen" as exhibit A. Again, Paul Dano proves he is one of the best actors of his generation, fully embodying his character. But sadly, Joby is the only show here, as the camera cannot leave him alone for a minute, unlike other characters, thus not allowing for any meaningful perspective on the situation. For example, I would have especially liked to have seen events also from Claire's point of view. That's not to mention a perplexing ending which only serves to muddle the movie's message.
"Hide Away" starts with a man(Josh Lucas) arriving at a marina to buy… More"Hide Away" starts with a man(Josh Lucas) arriving at a marina to buy a boat. Unfortunately, it turns out to be something of a fixer-upper, leading him to have much less fun than the other man(Jon Tenney, of "Maxwell & King) there in the midst of a midlife crisis. Of course, the drinking does not help.
Yes, "Hide Away" can be something of a slog, especially early on, as it is never any fun watching a character trying to drink himself to death. But with a little help from a good supporting cast that also includes Ayelet Zurer and James Cromwell, the movie gently shows how none of us are ever as alone as we think we are. Plus, I again admit my fondness for Josh Lucas, along with the area of the country where this movie was made.