New in Theaters: ‘Transcendence’

transcendence-poster1Remember in the 1982 version of Disney’s Tron, where Jeff Bridges get zapped by a computer’s scanning device and somehow magically translated into bits of data that are reassembled inside the hard drive as a living, functioning being? Cool, but didn’t exactly make sense. The new Johnny Depp artificial-intelligence thriller Transcendence is kind of like that, only without any of those cool light cycles.

Transcendence opens everywhere on Friday. My review is at Film Journal International:

“They say there’s power in Boston,” intones Paul Bettany at the start of the disappointing Transcendence, the camera panning over scenes of post-technological devastation: street lights dead, keyboards being used for doorstops. The film soon jumps back to five years earlier, setting up its conflict between hubristic technophiles and neo-Luddites which the film tries to structure a coherent story out of. But as idea-popping as that fight has the potential to be, it’s hard not to wish that the film had stayed with that opening scene, in a world struggling to adapt to more primitive times. At the very least, it would have been something we hadn’t seen before…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Joe’

Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in 'Joe'

Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’

Once upon a time, Nicolas Cage was an actor of some repute, if not always solid decision-making skills. A few years of Bruckheimer extravaganzas and brooding big-budget misfires, not to mention the occasional Satanic comic-book movie, killed most of that promise. However, in David Gordon Green’s new Southern noir, Joe, Cage makes an honest attempt to get back into that thing they call acting.

Joe-poster1Joe is opening this Friday in a few theaters, and should expand wider soon. My review is at Film Journal International:

A whiskey-slugging melodrama that wears its considerable heart on a tattered sleeve that smells of last night’s cigarettes, Joe is David Gordon Green’s most dramatically assured story to date. An adaptation of the Larry Brown novel, it stars Nicolas Cage in a non-showy comeback role as Joe Ransom, one of those guys who everybody in his small town knows at least a half-dozen good hell-raising stories about…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Under the Skin’

For his last two films, Sexy Beast and Birth, Jonathan Glazer dealt with the aliens that walk amongst us, whether it was divorced-from-reality gangsters or creepy children. In Under the Skin, though, he finally gets around to telling a story about an honest-to-God alien—in the form of Scarlett Johansson.

undertheskin-posterUnder the Skin opens in limited release on Friday. My review is at Film Journal International:

There is a searching, watching passivity in Scarlett Johansson’s work that’s enlivened her greatest roles, particularly Lost in Translation. That quality isn’t just an added benefit of Jonathan Glazer’s newest and certainly oddest film, it’s the very sinew that strains (not always successfully) to hold this spacious, spiky concoction together. As the nameless alien who spends the film roaming the streets of Glasgow in a white van looking for men to take home, Johansson is a thing apart. She drives with a floating precision, as though somebody else were actually handling the car. Her conversations might trail off in a cloud of nebulousness, but her eyes remain pinned on the man right in front of her. She is a hunter, after all…

You can see the trailer here:

Now Playing: ‘The Unknown Known’

Don Rumsfeld faces the past (or not) in 'The Unknown Known'

Don Rumsfeld faces the past (or not) in ‘The Unknown Known’

Late last year, possibly in an attempt to garner an Oscar nomination, the Weinsteins’ Radius-TWC outfit gave Errol Morris’ newest documentary The Unknown Known a short pre-holiday run. Now, this riveting, feature-length interview with the Bush era’s greatest poetic dissembler, Donald Rumsfeld, is getting a proper release.

The Unknown Known is playing in limited release again starting this week. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

In The Unknown Known, Rumsfeld shows time and again why he’s a perfect subject for another of Morris’s documentary investigations into American military adventurism and hubris. For one, he’s the sharpest verbalist of the three. For another, he’s willing to tangle with other points of view; though not necessarily concede an inch of ground. If the film can’t compare in the end to 2003’s The Fog of War, that’s because Rumsfeld doesn’t appear to have had the come-to-Jesus moment about Iraq that Robert McNamara had about his role in the disaster that was the Vietnam War. Given the placidly combative figure presented here, that moment will probably never come…

Here’s the trailer:

 

Now Playing: ‘The Lunchbox’

Irrfan Khan in 'The Lunchbox'

Irrfan Khan in ‘The Lunchbox’

In The Lunchbox, a sad-eyed office worker nearing retirement in Mumbai gets his regular lunch delivery, only to discover that it’s meant for a married man. But the food is delicious, so he keeps the mistake going and takes up exchanging letters with the cook, a lonely housewife trying to get her husband to notice her.

The Lunchbox is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

The sweet and savory epistolary romance The Lunchbox spins a variation on the adage about getting to a man’s heart through his stomach. In this case, the man in question’s heart is certainly touched, but the food he’s illicitly feasting on serves as a wakeup for something else: his soul. It’s more than the woman cooking the food intended. But then, spells have a way of getting away from the caster…

Here’s the trailer:

Now Playing: ‘Anita’

anita-poster1In 1991, the first of the decade’s great, somewhat shameful, televised scandal melodramas was broadcast: Anita Hill’s grilling by the Senate Judiciary Committee over her allegations of sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas. Then, as now, Hill is a dignified figure who chooses her words carefully and keeps emotion in check. Although the society at large has, surprisingly, moved on from this watershed moment, Hill finally gets her overdue consideration in a thoughtful, if not exactly thrilling documentary.

Anita is playing now in a few theaters and should be on DVD and VOD soon. My review is at Film Racket:

Anita is a functional film about an astounding person who faced the whirlwind and didn’t blink. It doesn’t do meaningful service to the larger story of persecution and discrimination and never scratches the surface of the poisonous vituperation that swirled around it. None of these things may have been necessary, though. Director Freida Lee Mock (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision) may have simply wanted to tell the story of one brave, famous, and yet surprisingly disregarded American hero. If so, she succeeds, but somewhat wanly…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Noah’

Every so often it seems that Hollywood gives the Bible epic another go. But there’s something about the genre that could well be so mired in the past that it refuses to be updated; Gibson and Scorsese couldn’t help but fundamentally remake it. Now comes Darren Aronofsky, last seen giving ballerinas nightmares in Black Swan, with his own unique take on the Bible story.

Noah is playing now everywhere. My review is at PopMatters:

In order to tell the story of Noah and the flood for over two hours, the movie erects considerable dramatic and political scaffolding, and in so doing, becomes a Biblical epic truly like no other. With its visionary asides and warnings of environmental apocalypse, it’s too idiosyncratic to make sense as mainstream seat-filler. But Noah is also a tamed thing, curiously lacking in daring for a director usually so eager to pluck an audience’s nerves like a violinist…

You can see the trailer here:

Now Playing: ‘Enemy’

enemy-poster1Last year in Prisoners, director Denis Villeneueve pulled a performance out of the normally downbeat Jake Gyllenhaal whose vibrant intensity stunned even in a film filled with it. With Villeneueve’s followup, a thinly creepy take on a Jose Saramago novel, Gyllenhaal somehow delivers less in a story that asks him to play two visually identical but spiritually opposite roles.

Enemy is playing now in limited release; my review is at Film Racket:

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a somnolent professor at some Toronto university  … He’s a phantom in his own life, not even sure whether those inexplicable moments featuring spiders and dark chambers filled with mysterious people are memories or dreams. With long, anxious shots and very occasional jittery interactions with the people who flit across Adam’s anxious path, Villeneueve tracks him like somebody who is about to implode, if only he existed. Even his mother (Isabella Rossellini) doesn’t seem entirely sure that he does…

Here’s the trailer; great soundtrack at least:

Now Playing: ‘Bad Words’

Jason Bateman has been crafting comedy genius for so long in front of the camera that it’s perhaps inevitable he would eventually move behind it as well. Bad Words is his directorial debut, a promising and blessedly short if wildly uneven hour-and-a-half of rude comedy about a misanthropic adult who crashes a kids’ spelling bee.

Bad Words is still playing just about everywhere. My review is at PopMatters:

Guy Trilby is custom-made for Bateman’s perfected admixture of laconic sharpness. Instead of the more explosive brand of destabilizers favored by US comedy, your John Belushis and Will Ferrells, Bateman upends the norms of this closed micro-society of over-schooled spelling quants by having Trilby simply plant himself there and refusing to move or explain his motivations. Occasionally he’ll try to get a leg up in competition by upsetting his preteen opponents with some verbal guerrilla warfare. But in the main, Trilby is a stoic pillar of nasty. (Having played the put-upon and exasperated nice guy in everything from Arrested Development to Identity Thief, Bateman gets some mileage here out of going so far to the dark side.) He’s Bartleby, and will not be moved…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’

dune1

Back in the 1970s, when midnight movies were still a potent cultural phenomenon, Alejandro Jodorowsky was the king of them. In 1974, after blowing the minds of cult cinephiles with El Topo and The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky took on another project: adapting Frank Herbert’s Dune. Eventually he gave up.

The documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune is opening in limited release tomorrow. My review is at Film Journal International:

As Jodorowsky—84 and still impeccably spry, with the follow-me eyes of either a prophet or very happy madman—tells it from his sun-filled Parisian apartment, he immediately put together his team of creative “warriors.” The visual unit reads like a dream team of 1970s science-fiction visionaries: French comic-book wizard Moebius (Heavy Metal), writer Dan O’Bannon (Dark Star), dark-sex-gothic fantasist H.R. Giger, and spaceship-specializing pulp-novel cover artist Chris Foss. He also claims to have roped in Pink Floyd for the soundtrack and a cast that would have included Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, and his fellow trickster surrealist Salvador Dali …Their director was convinced that this wasn’t going to be just another sci-fi epic; it was going to change the course of human history itself…

The trailer is here, dig it: