New in Theaters: ‘Mr. Turner’

Timothy Spall in 'Mr. Turner' (Sony Pictures Classics)

Timothy Spall in ‘Mr. Turner’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Mike Leigh tends to be the director one goes to for deft character studies (Secrets and Lies, Another Year, and such), not gorgeous period pieces. Nevertheless, Leigh took on the life story of one of Britian’s greatest painters, J.M.W. Turner, with all the costumery and flattering lighting one could ask for.

Mr. Turner opens this week in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

Anybody looking for a cozy holiday costume drama about a famous painter should steer clear of Mike Leigh’s uncompromising, sometimes brutal film. J.M.W. Turner is best known these days as the man who painted all those landscapes hanging in London’s National Gallery where boats on and buildings along the Thames nearly disappear into a rainbow-hued swirl of sun-dazzled shimmer. These are pre-Impressionistic, even quiet works. But in Mr. Turner, the man who heaved and hurled those paintings into life appears as a great snuffling boar of a man with coarse manners; the farthest thing from a nineteenth-century aesthete one could find…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Song of the Sea’

songofthesea1

Song of the Sea is the newest dream-woven piece of Irish animation from Tomm Moore, director of the uncommonly beautiful Book of Kells. It opens in limited release this Friday.

sonofthesea-posterI reviewed it for Film Journal International:

The film begins as morose as a funeral lament, albeit a gripping one etched in splendidly dark tones. That tone ratchets further down once the children’s stern old hunchbacked Granny comes to stay. But after she convinces Conor to have Ben and Saorise live with her in Dublin, Moore limbers the story up like a traditional Irish storyteller pulling in a lungful of air to give the folks what they asked for. After a brief interlude in Granny’s deathly dull and rules-bound house, Song of the Sea becomes a picaresque odyssey through an Ireland where the fairies and other wee folk hide out in traffic roundabouts behind manhole covers that read: “Feic off. No humans”…

Here’s the gorgeous trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’

Martin Freeman as Bilbo in 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' (Warner Bros.)

Martin Freeman as Bilbo in ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ (Warner Bros.)

hobbit-posterSix films and who knows how many gajillion dollars of revenue later, Peter Jackson’s monumental, exhausting adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ring novels comes to an end with the third film in the second Hobbit cycle. Love it or loathe it, this is the end—and it’s going out with a bang.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies opens in all known territories next Wednesday. My review is at Film Journal International:

Amidst all the clashing armies, fell spirits, and talk of destinies and dynasties that fill J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythological adventure novels, the author’s eye never drifts far from the plucky little hero who finds unknown strengths in terrifying times. Peter Jackson dutifully sounded the same tune in his films of Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. But where Tolkien was a humanist, Jackson is a strategist, ever marshaling his forces for grander victories. There’s no denying the films’ quality as battle-ready spectacle of the first order. But the final installment, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, is just about all Jackson and precious little Tolkien. In other words, if you like orc-killin’, and lots of it, this is your film…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Inherent Vice’

Owen Wilson and Joaquin Phoenix sleuth confusedly in 'Inherent Vice' (Warner Bros.)

Owen Wilson and Joaquin Phoenix sleuth confusedly in ‘Inherent Vice’ (Warner Bros.)

inherentvice-coverWhen Thomas Pynchon published Inherent Vice in 2009, it became very clear that the revered author of Gravity’s Rainbow was still interested in his basics (baffling plots, conspiratorial confusion) but was now also cool with knocking out an honest-to-God fun read. Paul Thomas Anderson’s resume of overbusy, overcrowded Southern California anthology meta-fictions (Magnolia, in particular) would seem to make him the perfect man to bring this book to the screen.

Inherent Vice is opening this week in limited release and likely to wide befuddlement; it’ll go wider around the nation in January. My review is at Film Racket:

“Thinking comes later,” mumbles Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) at the start of Paul Thomas Anderson’s foggy, funny film of Thomas Pynchon’s psychedelia-noir Inherent Vice, only he never quite gets around to it. A lot of things get in his way, you see, from the moment that his ex-old lady Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston, an angelic , transfixing moonbeam of a smile but with not much to do here) lays on him a whole rap about needing help with her new old man. In the grand tradition of beautiful women whose true motives are submerged beneath shimmering layers of twinkle, Shasta’s initial request is more complicated and dangerous than it initially seems, particularly after she goes missing. Doc’s journey starts off being about making sure that Shasta (clearly the love of his life, though neither of them may know or want to know it) is okay, it turns into a quasi-historical tour of a Southern California counterculture circa 1970 on the verge of imploding under the weight of its own bafflement and paranoia…

Here’s the (fantastic) trailer:

Department of Awards: ‘Boyhood’ the Best Film of 2014

Dreaming of greatness, or just dreaming, in 'Boyhood' (IFC Films)

Dreaming of greatness, or just dreaming, in ‘Boyhood’ (IFC Films)

Earlier today, New York Film Critics Online—a group that quite generously includes yours truly in its membership—met to hash out the most notable films, filmmakers, and performers in various categories during 2014.

In short, Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood won for best picture and in two other categories, with Alejandro Inarritu’s meta-fictional satire Birdman tied at three wins. Other films like The Imitation Game and particularly The Grand Budapest Hotel received many votes in particular categories but ultimately couldn’t pull out a win. (Note that last year, NYFCO chose 12 Years a Slave as best film, and it went on to win the Oscar … just saying.)

The Hollywood Reporter noted the proceedings, as did award news mavens GoldDerby and The Wrap.

Here’s the full reckoning of what we as a group liked best from 2014, broken down first by category and then our annual Top 10 list; note that several of them (Unbroken, A Most Violent Year, Selma, and Two Days, One Night) won’t get released until Christmas or later this year:

  • Best Picture — Boyhood
  • Best Director — Richard Linklater, Boyhood
  • Best Actor — Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
  • Best Actress — Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
  • Best Supporting Actor — J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
  • Best Supporting Actress — Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  • Best Screenplay — Birdman
  • Best Cinematography — Birdman
  • Best Breakthrough Performance — Jack O’Connell, Starred Up and Unbroken
  • Best Use of Music — Get On Up
  • Best Debut Director — Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
  • Best Ensemble Cast — Birdman
  • Best Foreign Language Film — Two Days, One Night
  • Best Documentary — Life Itself
  • Best Animated Film — The Lego Movie

The Top 10 Films of 2014

  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Imitation Game
  • A Most Violent Year
  • Mr. Turner
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Under the Skin
  • Whiplash

New in Theaters: ‘Wild’

Reese Witherspoon explores the great outdoors and finds herself in 'Wild' (Fox Searchlight)

Reese Witherspoon explores the great outdoors and finds herself in ‘Wild’ (Fox Searchlight)

wild-bookCheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir Wild—about her brave and highly foolish decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with no training as a way of exorcising her painful past—was many things that a bestseller and Oprah often aren’t: emotionally lacerating, unexpected, vulnerable, and clear-eyed about people’s weaknesses and dark sides. For the inevitable and surprisingly spot-on film adaptation, Reese Witherspoon plays Strayed in what could be an Oscar-worthy performance. That’s Nick Hornby of High Fidelity behind the keyboard.

Wild hits theaters this week. My review is at Film Racket:

Strayed is first spotted on the side of a mountain, pulling a bloody toenail out after days of grueling walking in too-small boots under a groaning pack one could fit the possessions of a small nation-state into. Dropping one boot down the side of the mountain by mistake, she impulsively throws the other boot after it, screaming in rage. Director Jean-Marc Vallee shoots it in all the wrong ways, with slow-motion and elongated vocals, trying to create a drama that the story hasn’t earned yet. It’s a rough start to what is mostly a solidly-crafted and cathartic drama of discovery about a woman who nearly kills herself in order to learn how to live again…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Zero Motivation’

Nelly Tagar tries to be all she can be in 'Zero Motivation' (Zeitgeist Films)

Nelly Tagar tries to be all she can be in ‘Zero Motivation’ (Zeitgeist Films)

The new Israeli film Zero Motivation—which played the film festival circuit earlier in the year—is a smart, dour comedy set in a military office where little gets done. The military satire is punched up with the occasional flash of surrealism; it’s a fantastic mix.

Zero Motivation is opening this week in limited release. I reviewed it at the Tribeca Film Festival for PopMatters:

On a base that feels as removed from any actual war as Sgt. Bilko, the human resources office is a den of sloth and ineptitude. Commanding officer Rama (Shani Klein) is frazzled trying to get any of the women in her command to care even remotely about their assignments. Her best friends Daffi (Nelly Tagar) and Zohar (Dana Ivgy) can’t be bothered to do much besides complain and play Minesweeper, as they all survive in a casually sexist division, where the men are assigned all the combat roles and so ascend to higher ranks, and female soldiers fetch coffee and bicker…

Here’s the trailer: