New in Theaters: ‘Happy Valley’

Painting over Jerry Sandusky at the Penn State mural in 'Happy Valley' (Music Box Films)

Painting over Jerry Sandusky at the Penn State mural in ‘Happy Valley’ (Music Box Films)

The newest documentary from Amir Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story) is another troubling story about an insular culture reacting with fury to a scandal that threatens their self-created mythology.

I reviewed Happy Valley as part of the DOC NYC festival. It’s opening this week in limited release; my review of Happy Valley (as well as the D.C. punk documentary Salad Days, which also screened at DOC NYC) is at PopMatters:

If Amir Bar-Lev’s superb Happy Valley is any indication, the arguments in the Penn State community over the Jerry Sandusky scandal will not be ending anytime soon. As with most scandals that flare into the national consciousness amid intersecting nodal points of volatility (regional identity, sexual crimes, sports), what actually happened ultimately has little to do with how it plays out with public opinion. Just so, the film sidelines some of the who-what-when to examine the lingering dust clouds of disappointment, rage, and conspiratorial invective…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Foxcatcher’

Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in 'Foxcatcher' (Sony Pictures Classics)

Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in ‘Foxcatcher’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

One of the first films that the smart money says will be a 2014 Oscar contender, Foxcatcher is a stranger-than-fiction true story about a potentially insane man of wealth and his obsession with wrestling in general and a pair of Olympic wrestlers in specific. Given its solid performances from all involved (Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell, Channing Tatum) and the pedigree of director of Capote and Moneyball, it certainly has a shot at the Oscars; whether or not that’s deserved is another story.

Foxcatcher is opening this week. I reviewed it for Film Racket:

There’s an old joke about how poor people are crazy but the rich are merely eccentric. Bennett Miller’s based-on-a-true-story Foxcatcher vividly illustrates that joke. After all, how many poor people are allowed to own an armored personnel carrier with a .50 caliber machine gun, openly snort cocaine, wave revolvers around, and make documentaries about their pretend achievements, and not be called crazy? John du Pont was the scion of an industrial dynasty with an 800-acre estate and bank vaults full of money. Because of that, he is allowed to follow every controlling desire, even though anybody can see it will end in tragedy. The tautly acted but dramatically deficient Foxcatcher is the story of how a pair of brothers from humble means were pulled into du Pont’s orbit of pathology by the promise of greatness and kept there by the lure of money…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘The Homesman’

Tommy Lee Jones in 'The Homesman' (Roadside Attractions)

Tommy Lee Jones in ‘The Homesman’ (Roadside Attractions)

In the quasi-Western The Homesman, Tommy Lee Jones plays a claims-jumper in 1850s Nebraska who gets roped into helping a tough-minded spinster (Hilary Swank) cart three insane women to safety in Iowa. Jones, who looks less and less comfortable in modern garb these days, also directed and co-wrote the screenplay.

The Homesman opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

“I live uncommonly alone,” says Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) in Tommy Lee Jones’ adaptation of Glendon Swarthout’s novel about a raw frontier where solitude and madness are constant companions. The Homesman tries to cut a mordant, witty Coen Brothers line between tragedy and comedy and can’t quite manage either. More particularly, it never knows quite what to make of Cuddy, who is at once valorized as a heroically staunch figure and at the same time mocked for her stiff manner and panicky ways…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘The Better Angels’

Braydon Denney as young Abe Lincoln in 'The Better Angels' (Amplify)

Braydon Denney as young Abe Lincoln in ‘The Better Angels’ (Amplify)

Everybody knows that Abraham Lincoln was raised in a log cabin in Indiana. But it’s still jarring to consider how a man raised in the middle of nowhere with little schooling by probably illiterate parents became one of the nation’s greatest and most erudite leaders. A.J. Edwards’ beautifully abstract, Terence Malick-ian film about Lincoln’s childhood explores that mystery with only limited success.

The Better Angels opened yesterday in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Abraham Lincoln is remembered as one of the nation’s most facile writers and speakers. Yet in this dreamy black-and-white tone poem about Lincoln’s childhood in a dirt-floor cabin in the Indiana woods, the future president says barely a word. It’s an intriguing gambit from debut director A.J. Edwards, the mirror opposite of the standard Spielbergian biopic, and ultimately not a successful one…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘The Theory of Everything’

Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne in 'The Theory of Everything' (Focus Features)

Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne in ‘The Theory of Everything’ (Focus Features)

theoryofeverything1The first of the year’s two fall films about brilliant British scientists (The Imitation Game, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turning, comes later this month), James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything is a romantic drama about Stephen Hawking’s early career and first marriage.

The Theory of Everything opened today around the country. My review is at Film Racket:

The Theory of Everything is a story about Stephen Hawking, arguably one of the most brilliant human beings ever to balance an equation. The screenplay is adapted from a book by his first wife, Jane Hawking, about the 30 challenging years they spent together. It has the stuff of riveting drama, from science-redefining theoretical discoveries to agonizing personal struggles. But the film, directed by James Marsh as though from the Twee Biopic Handbook, could not be more ordinary…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘National Gallery’

nationalgallery1

A Q-tip can fix the grandest painting in ‘National Gallery’ (Zipporah Films)

Every year or so, Frederick Wiseman produces another documentary, normally of unusual length, that sneaks behind the scenes of institutions ranging from the University of California-Berkeley to a boxing gym. His newest spends three hours wandering like a fascinated ghost around London’s National Gallery. It’s not his best, but still a fascinating piece of work.

National Gallery is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

National Gallery follows the Wiseman style, its sprawling and octopus-like nature weaving the everyday with the sublime. The film starts and ends with a flutter of stills showing highlights from the Gallery’s 2400-odd paintings; heavy on the Masters, with a spray of Impressionism, lots of Turner. It’s a feast in and of itself. Wiseman then moves into the business of day-to-day work at the Gallery, which occupies a grand position on the north side of Trafalgar Square. That includes everything from the workers waxing the floors and dusting to the administrators quietly arguing in conference rooms to the tour guides explaining the holdings to some of the five-plus million visitors who come through the doors every year…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘The Great Invisible’

'The Great Invisible' (Radius-TWC)

‘The Great Invisible’ (Radius-TWC)

thegreatinvisible-posterThe Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion was just about the worst environmental catastrophe the country has ever seen. Margaret Brown’s new documentary explores how it happened and what has been done (or more properly, not been done) to ensure it never happens again.

The Great Invisible is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

The hot lowlands sprawling around where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico seem both disaster-prone and fated to be ignored when it comes time for clean-up. When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, 11 workers were killed and millions of gallons of oil dumped into the gulf. It was the biggest oil spill in American history. That was horrific enough. But then came the investigations, the lawyers, and the intransigent power of a massive industry apparently powerful enough to devastate an entire coastal economy and yet still convince people that punishing it would only hurt themselves…

You can see the trailer here: