New in Theaters: ‘Maps to the Stars’

Robert Pattinson looks properly mystified in 'Maps to the Stars' (Focus World)

Robert Pattinson looks properly mystified in ‘Maps to the Stars’ (Focus World)

It was probably only a matter of time before director David Cronenberg and novelist Bruce Wagner found some way to work together. Cronenberg’s love of festering wounds (both physical and psychological) and Wagner’s bleak and blackened comedies of Hollywood soul-deadness would seem somehow made for each other. That’s how we, unfortunately, ended up with Maps to the Stars.

After a short, awards-qualifying run late last year, Maps to the Stars is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

There is a moment when satire turns into pure spleen. That moment comes pretty early in David Cronenberg’s disjointed Maps to the Stars. Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), a child star with the dead but predatory eyes of a middle-aged addict, lashes out at his manager. Benjie lets loose a stream of insults notable for being not just petty but anti-Semitic and homophobic to boot. It’s a terribly clumsy moment (see how awful actors can be), the satirical equivalent of a punch to the nose. Much of the film that follows is played in much the same key of bilious hate, the only variant being the talent of those spitting out the lines…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Jupiter Ascending’

'Jupiter Ascending': Check it out, hover boots! (Warner Bros.)

‘Jupiter Ascending': Check it out, hover boots! (Warner Bros.)

A preposterously silly and overbudgeted space opera from the Wachowskis, whose Cloud Atlas was one of the more exciting sci-fi/fantasies of recent memory, Jupiter Ascending would seem to have it all: Laser battles, baroque outer-space architeture, Eddie Redmayne in full camp mode, Channing Tatum with wolf ears. Disappointingly, such is not the case.

After a poorly-considered surprise screening at Sundance (wrong crowd), Jupiter Ascending opened wide on Friday, for a likely very brief run; my review is at PopMatters:

There was a time when beautifully begrimed working-class movie heroines would be delighted to discover they had royal blood coursing through their veins. While those Cinderella stories focused on the romance between girl and prince,Jupiter Ascending changes the stakes. Here, the princess must save the world and the prince has had his DNA spliced with that of a wolf.

Ah, love, Wachowski-style…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: The Oscar Nominated Short Films

Ireland's Oscar-nominated short film 'Boogaloo and Graham' (ShortsHD)

Ireland’s Oscar-nominated short film ‘Boogaloo and Graham’ (ShortsHD)

Every year at the Oscars, the same four or five feature films are mentioned over and over again. Then they come to the shorts category and everybody looks confused since there was never anywhere to see the things. That’s changed in recent years with the increasing popularity (in arthouses, at least) of the Oscar nominated short film programs.

Oscar shorts-posterAll three programs (Live-Action, Documentary, and Animation) open in limited release this Friday. My reviews of the first two ran this week in Film Journal International.

You can read the review of Live-Action here:

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences votes each year for their favorite live-action short films, it can often seem as if they’re aiming for a smorgasbord appeal: something serious, something off-the-wall, a couple of snippet comedies, and at least something in black-and-white. The 2015 program, now a reliably audience-pleasing fixture on the art-house circuit, chucks that template in favor of more thought-out offerings that for once downplay the quirk…

The Oscar-nominated short 'White Earth' (ShortsHD)

The Oscar-nominated documentary short ‘White Earth’ (ShortsHD)

And Documentary here:

There are some years when the nonfiction shorts nominated for the Academy Awards can be realistically seen as a menu of the world’s problems: short dispatches of despair and terror, war and its consequences, from far-flung countries and ignored communities. This year’s program has some of that quality to it as well; there is, after all, something about the form that seems to necessitate the choice of uncomfortable topics. But more than most years, this time the problems at hand are more personal than geopolitical…

You can see the trailer here.

Screening Room: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Deserves to Win It All

Ralph Fiennes lives it up while he can in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' (Fox Searchlight)

Ralph Fiennes lives it up while he can in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (Fox Searchlight)

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated for nine (count ‘em) Academy Awards. There’s no guessing exactly how it will fare up against the competition from Birdman and Boyhood, but it’s easy to say that whatever awards those films don’t get, should be sent Budapest‘s way.

grand_budapest_hotel-posterMy article about the film is at Short Ends & Leader:

Wes Anderson isn’t our greatest living filmmaker; his style is too narrowly defined for such a grand title. We tend to think of our greatest directors as both having a signature style but also being flexible enough to tackle many styles: Howard Hawks could move from urbane comedies to Westerns and epics, Martin Scorsese from urban grit to musicals and children’s’ fantasias, and so on. By contrast Anderson has one style, and each of his films simply refine it. All those twee little trinkets and fussy outfits could drive you mad, were one to watch too many in a row. But as perfectly Andersonian a spectacle as The Grand Budapest Hotel is, it also expands his reach in surprising ways. Being one of the year’s most unique spectacles, it’s also the first Anderson film made up of tragedy as much as it is comedy…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘A Most Violent Year’

Oscar Isaacs and Jessica Chastain plot in 'A Most Violent Year' (A24)

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain plot in ‘A Most Violent Year’ (A24)

amostviolentyear-poster1Sneaking into theaters after the great Christmas rush is J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year. A low-key drama about warring heating-oil firms set in 1981 New York, when murders and violent crime had the city on the verge of collapse, the film and its characters are as controlled and tightly-wound as its setting is chaotic.

A Most Violent Year is playing now in limited release, with some hopes for Oscar nominations to give it more play around the country. My review is at PopMatters:

J.C. Chandor’s return to land-based storytelling shares some of the predilections of last year’s Robert Redford vehicle All Is Lost. Both that film and A Most Violent Year are deliberately paced, refusing to rush their stories for the purposes of juicing the drama. This is not a bad tendency. It shows Chandor to be an unusually disciplined filmmaker in a landscape increasingly populated by the work of the eager-to-please. But not all subject matter supports the slow-and-steady approach, and that’s the case with A Most Violent Year

You can see the trailer here:

2014: The Year in Movies

(Sailko)

(cinema image by Sailko)

Now that 2014 has drawn to a close, the theaters are full of all the films that opened in November and December that nobody has had any chance to get to. It’s not a bad thing, given the too-crowded flurry of awards-scrapping releases trying to make it in before the end of the year, mixed in with the occasional counter-programming piece of dross. But it’s also a useful time to think about how the year shaped up, film-wise.

My essay, “2014: A Most Mediocre Year,” ran this week at PopMatters:

The Interview was almost certainly not going to be in contention for anything in 2014, whether awards or places in people’s funny bones. As my colleague Rebecca Pahle over at Film Journal International put it, the movie is probably best skipped by people who “have a visceral hatred of jokes about things going into and coming out of butts.” Nevertheless, there was something about the entire hacking contretemps (on a non-geopolitical level, at least) that feels representative of where the film industry is today. Sony acted initially with brazen attitude, signing on to a comedy that never would have been contemplated, let alone released, by a major studio 15 years ago. They then folded so swiftly you could almost feel the breeze. Desperation mixed with an overabundance of caution is not a good combination for any industry. You can see both of those attributes everywhere in this year’s mostly pallid offerings…

New in Theaters: ‘Unbroken’

Jack O'Connell faces down a sadistic prison guard in 'Unbroken' (Universal Pictures)

Jack O’Connell faces down a sadistic prison guard in ‘Unbroken’ (Universal Pictures)

unbroken-coverLaura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken has been sitting atop the bestseller lists for close to 200 weeks now, which is no surprise, given its incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, who went from a record-breaking performance running in the 1936 Berlin Olympics to being a brutalized Japanese prisoner of war. Angelina Jolie’s (yes, she directed) take on the book is respectful and professionally done, but never quite gets at what made Zamperini such a survivor.

Unbroken opened wide on Christmas Day. My review is at Film Racket:

If one learns anything from a handsomely-told World War II survival fable like Unbroken, it’s that if you are marooned at sea for weeks and then tossed into a brutal prison camp, it’s best to do so with an Olympic runner by your side…

Here’s the trailer: