Keira Knightley (left), Mark Ruffalo (right), and a passel of ready-for-anything musicians in ‘Begin Again’ (Weinstein Company)
When John Carney made the incomparable Dublin street-musical Once, he ginned up magic from the mundane. With the glitzier and slightly more stock Begin Again, he uses the same starry-eyed formula for almost equally wonderful results.
Begin Again is playing now around the country. My review is at Film Racket:
Nothing in Begin Again, a grin-machine Roman candle of a film, should work. It features more cliches than should be legally allowed. A starry-eyed and uncompromising songwriter. A bum music producer needing one last shot. A rising star who just dumped the songwriter to get busy losing his soul. The comic relief guy. A fractured family that just needs their dad to get his act together. A basket full of dreams. Some beautiful songs that just need to be heard. New. York. City. But writer/director John Carney gets away with it, whipping through the stock situations with a hummingbird-light grace….
Here’s the trailer:
Ellar Coltrane in ‘Boyhood’ (IFC Films)
Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, the Before trilogy) spent twelve years shooting a movie about a boy growing up in Texas with divorced parents, filming the actors as they naturally aged. It’s an experiment, yes, following this kid from age six to his first day at college, but one that pays off rich dividends more often than not.
Boyhood opens in limited release this week and should creep into more theaters around the country over the summer. My review is at Film Racket:
Wobbly at times but still magical in an everyday way, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood proves that intimate doesn’t have to equal melodrama and experimental can still be perfectly approachable. The film follows a quiet and daydream-prone boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane, likable if sometimes stiff), growing up in Texas with snarky older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and divorced parents (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke). There’s no story, per se, it’s just his life from about age 7 to 18. The look is straightforward and shorn of obvious directorial flair, the often affectless dialogue even more so. But that deceptively simple framework is rich with accrued detail and even some backhanded insight….
Here’s the trailer:
Aaron Swartz: ‘The Internet’s Own Boy’ (Filmbuff)
Netzien Aaron Swartz’s suicide was a rallying cry for many in the tightly-wired community of online activists. The story of this 26-year-old’s short, dramatic, impassioned life makes up the new activist documentary The Internet’s Own Boy.
The Internet’s Own Boy is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:
Maybe it’s something about Boston. For the second time this summer we’re seeing a documentary hinging on bad behavior in the city’s federal law-enforcement community. Although Joe Berlinger’s Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger paints a damning portrait of prosecutor indiscretion, Brian Knappenberger’s melodramatic, idealistic The Internet’s Own Boyis more troubling. That could be because in Berlinger’s case, it’s hard to get worked up about the mishandling of a case against the screamingly guilty and murderous Bulger, whereas with Knappenberger the victim is a widely beloved 26-year-old Internet activist who hung himself, arguably after being zealously hounded by the government. That the film doesn’t quite prove, or try to prove, that (as one unseen voice has it) “[Swartz] was killed by the government,” it makes for disturbing viewing nonetheless…
You can see the trailer here:
‘Whitey’ Bulger in his younger years (Magnolia Pictures)
Joe Berlinger has worked on some amazing true-crime documentaries over the years, not least the ground-breaking Paradise Lost trilogy. With Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, though, he (inadvertently or not) buoys the facetious mythology of Southie crime boss ‘Whitey’ Bulger as some noble gangster.
Whitey opens today in limited release and will probably show up on cable later in the year. My review is at Film Racket:
Fortuitously hitting theaters well before Scott Cooper’s fictional (and likely mythological) take on Bulger’s life, Whitey doesn’t try to be the feature-length nonfiction take on the South Boston crime lord. Instead, true-crime documentarian Berlinger zeros in on the sort of thing he normally does best: the trial itself…
Here’s the trailer:
Madison, Wisconsin, ground zero for the Koch brothers’ political campaigns. (Variance Films)
You would think that a hit-job documentary about the Koch brothers—billionaire conservative villains par excellence—would have been something of a slam-dunk. But Citizen Koch, for all the surrounding it for having been supposedly yanked from PBS (which receives a lot of money from David Koch), is a disappointingly toothless thing.
Citizen Koch is playing now in limited release; not on PBS. My review is at Film Journal International:
Citizen Koch has passion aplenty, but it begins as a well-starched and solidly structured argument about the dismantling of campaign-finance reform. It’s smartly and entertainingly told in the by-now standard format of attack documentaries: stringing together television news footage for a pulse-pounding narrative and cutting away to talking-head interviews for context. Instead of jumping all over the Kochs from the start, the filmmakers lay out out how the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates for increased corporate donations to political advocacy groups. Former Wisconsin senator and campaign finance reformer Russ Feingold calls the decision a “huge power grab” by corporations, who were now freer to support or attack politicians of their choosing…
You can check out the trailer here:
Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska in ‘The Double’ (image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
In Dostoyevsky’s 1846 novel The Double, a St. Petersburg bureaucrat encounters an identical version of himself, who proceeds to take over his life. In Richard Ayoade’s hallucinogenic, picaresque adaptation, Jesse Eisenberg plays both halves of the office-drone doppleganger—one an ignored sad sack who can’t get the girl and the other a life-of-the-party predator who can get any girl. Frustration results.
The Double is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:
If Wes Anderson immersed himself in Orwell, Kafka, and other high priests of chilly, bureaucratic horror, the result might look something like Richard Ayoade’s metaphysical nightmare The Double. That would never happen, of course, as Anderson is an optimist and fabulist who believes in the happy ending, warted though it might be. Ayoade is a colder fish, as he showed in his first film, Submarine, which had a little too much fun reveling in its young protagonist’s studied quirk for its own sake. But that directorial remove, coupled with a lack of desire to pretend that a character’s suffering in any way automatically creates nobility, helps make Avi Korine’s adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novella into a bracing, darkly crystalline film that isn’t easily shaken off. If there were ever such a thing as the nightmare comedy, this is it…
You can see the trailer here:
(Image courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival)
In the last weekend of the Tribeca Film Festival, a strong slate of documentaries showed that covered things southern, eccentric art forgers and brassy politicos. My second dispatch runs today at PopMatters, here.
First is All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State. Befitting its once-in-a-lifetime subject, this clearly worshipful documentary is big-hearted and loud-mouthed, but gets by on the strength of sheer personality. It’s also screening tonight on HBO:
Ann Richards seems a perfect subject for a documentary. The beloved Texan progressive wore her hair in a signature bouffant and power-lunch suits, and was well known for her remarkable comic timing. Her knack for bringing crowds to their feet recalled a long-ago era, especially when she embarked on stemwinders skewering the traditions that kept women and minorities in their place (and her state in the 19th century), while also pointing the way forward. As her old buddy Bill Clinton—who is about the only Democrat of recent years to have come close to her facility with humor and language—notes in All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State, you can get a lot more people to listen to what you have to say if you’re funny…
Next up we’ve got Art and Craft, a taut story about a spindly little criminal who may not actually have broken any laws, just infuriated museum staffers across the south who have been taken in by his forgeries:
Already the subject of numerous news stories and magazine profiles, Mark Landis is a square peg in a round hole figure, the sort that raises questions about the “art world” every so often. Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, and Mark Becker’s film shows an appreciation for Landis’ oddities, not just personal but also professional. Landis is an art forger and a schizophrenic, but he doesn’t forge for money. He just likes to create fake pieces of art and give them away to museums and other institutions under false pretenses. As he puts it, “I went on philanthropic binges.”
Art and Craft was already picked up by Oscilloscope for a release later this year; keep your eyes peeled.
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 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:
Last 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:
Tsahi Halevy and Shadi Mar’i in ‘Bethlehem’
In Yuval Adler’s West Bank thriller, a Palestinian teenager whose older brother is a high-ranking terrorist finds his loyalties divided between family and the Israeli intelligence agent who he’s feeding information to.
Bethlehem is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:
Nothing in Yuval Adler’s tangled-up thriller Bethlehem is far removed from anything else. It’s a crowded film, with agendas, rivalries and frustrations crashing into one another like dancers in an over-capacity club. The Israeli agents and Palestinian terrorists and civilians populating this world of hot extremes are always in close proximity (there’s a fog of gossip and innuendo that makes a mockery of keeping any secret for long) while remaining diametrically opposed in their politics, orders and goals. This might be a war, but the stakes are personal. For both sides, the fields of battle are their homes…
You can watch the trailer here: