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:

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:

New in Theaters: ‘Bethlehem’

Tsahi Halevy and Shadi Mar'i in 'Bethlehem'

Tsahi Halevy and Shadi Mar’i in ‘Bethlehem’

betlehem_poster_finalIn 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:

New in Theaters: ‘Interior. Leather Bar.’

'Cruising'. Again.

‘Cruising’. Again.

interior.-leather-bar.-poster1Back in 1980, William Friedkin’s Cruising became the biggest mainstream film since The Boys in the Band to be set almost entirely in the gay community. A punishingly physical and creepy story about a straight cop (Al Pacino) who goes undercover in the New York leather-bar scene to track a serial killer, it was controversial at the time for its supposed homophobia. So when James Franco decided to co-direct an art project/movie that “reimagined” the infamous 40 minutes of possibly pornographic footage Friedkin cut to avoid an X rating, eyebrows were bound to be raised.

Interior. Leather Bar. has been doing the festival buzz circuit and is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

Interior. Leather Bar. is less what it claims to be than an inside-out investigation of the “Franco’s doing a gay-porn movie” buzz that surrounded the project, and the process of filming itself. It follows a scattered-seeming Franco and his more on-point co-director Travis Mathews putting their project together while their star Val Lauren (as the Al Pacino character) tries to suss out exactly what the filmmakers are up to. During one of the film’s several scenes of discussion about what they’re making, Lauren tries to make his nervousness clear to Franco, noting that Pacino at least had a script to work with…

James Franco and Val Lauren immerse themselves in 'Interior. Leather Bar.'

James Franco and Val Lauren immerse themselves in ‘Interior. Leather Bar.’

The trailer is here:

Now Playing: ‘Like Father, Like Son’

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Are You Really My Son?

likefatherlikeson-posterImagine you’re the parents of an adorably well-behaved six-year-old boy. Then the hospital calls and tells you that in fact, your child was switched with another family’s when they were born—your biological son has been raised by somebody else. What do you do? That’s the conversation-sparking premise behind Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s brilliant new melodrama Like Father, Like Son, playing now in limited release.

My review is at Film Racket:

There’s a Lifetime movie lurking not far beneath the deceptively placid surface of this cutting family drama about a Japanese couple who discover that their six-year-old son is actually somebody else’s. Now, not only do they have to come to terms with the realization that their son is not related to them, but that their biological child is still out there, waiting to be met. What is their real son like, and if they haven’t raised him, what makes that boy their real son and not the one they’ve been creating a family with? Over the course of its smartly plotted two hours, writer/director Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s emotionally knotty film raises question after question about this interruption of what seemed initially like domestic bliss. The biggest of them being: Does any of this even matter?…

likefatherlikeson2

Like Father, Like Son strangely missed out on this year’s foreign film Oscars, but won the Jury Prize at Cannes, where Steven Spielberg saw the film and nabbed the rights for a perhaps inevitable American remake by Dreamworks.

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ’12 O’Clock Boys’

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’12 O’Clock Boys’: Today, We Ride

12-o-clock-boys-posterEvery so often in Baltimore, swarms of teenagers and twentysomethings will come swarming through an intersection, doing paralysis-defying tricks on their bikes or four-wheelers. They’re called “12 O’Clock Boys,” and they’re the subject of an interesting new documentary about hope (or the lack of it) and fantasy in the inner cities.

12 O’Clock Boys opens in limited release this week after playing the festival doc circuit. My review is at Film Journal International:

…Their name comes from a signature move where a rider pops a wheelie so high that the front wheel goes straight up like an hour hand on a clock pointing to twelve. It supplies phenomenal footage for local news shows, confuses many of the drivers and pedestrians they’re swarming past, thrills some bystanders, and infuriates others. “What are we doing about these little scumbags?” shouts a talk-radio caller. Over the three years that director Lofty Nathan follows his young protagonist, Pug, his enraptured camera witnesses one all-consuming emotion: Pug wants nothing more than to be a 12 O’Clock Boy. The film feeds off his enthusiasm…

Here’s the trailer:

Best Movies of 2013: First Take

bestfilmtv2013-films

Since it’s a brand new year already featuring its own share of miserable, do-I-have-to-go-out-there? weather, what better time to sit back and figure out what exactly was the year that was? Film-wise, that is.

I contributed to a few of those lists at different websites this month. Over at PopMatters, you can see their gargantuan Top 35 films list here; they’ve also produced similar lists broken out into DVDs and foreign/indie films. I also contributed to their sections on the year’s worst films, and best female and male performances.

Sarah Polley's 'Stories We Tell'

Sarah Polley’s ‘Stories We Tell’

Also, the writers for Film Racket published their own individual Top 10 lists here. My list is something of a first draft that I’ll be going back over and redoing for the publication (hopefully later this month) of the new edition of Eyes Wide Open 2013: The Year’s 25 Greatest Movies (and 5 Worst). Here’s the short version:

  1. Stories We Tell
  2. 12 Years a Slave
  3. Gravity
  4. Before Midnight
  5. Fruitvale Station
  6. A Touch of Sin
  7. August: Osage County
  8. Gimme the Loot
  9. Room 237
  10. Captain Phillips

New in Theaters: ‘Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?”

It depends what you mean by 'happy'

It depends what you mean by ‘happy’

istheman_poster-296x478What’s the best way to make a documentary about a philosopher? Sit down and talk to him. Better yet, if you’re Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) chatting with Noam Chomsky about life, the universe, and everything, animate the whole thing.

Is the Tall Man Happy? is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International; here’s part:

[Michel] Gondry’s lovably sincere and chatty Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? starts by telling how he came across [Noam] Chomsky after seeing films on him, like the epic 1992 dissertation on his media critique, Manufacturing Consent. At first, it seems like Gondry is going to overplay the worshipful naïf card in his narration, interrupting himself, acting nervous, and highlighting being out of his depth: “As you can see, I felt a bit stupid here.” But Gondry’s natural charisma takes hold of the conversation. Instead of trying to boil down Chomsky’s dense linguistic and political viewpoints, Gondry and he simply talk philosophy…

You can watch the superb trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘After Tiller’

Dr. Susan Robinson in 'After Tiller'.

Dr. Susan Robinson in ‘After Tiller’.

after_tiller posterAfter several recent documentaries about abortion that have hewed to a closely nonpartisan viewpoint (12th & Delaware, in particular), After Tiller stakes out a definite position. In staunchly defending the heroism of the four doctors who still provide late-term abortions after the 2009 assassination of George Tiller, the filmmakers have created a powerful but still thoughtful investigation of a tough subject.

After Tiller is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Racket; here’s part:

When Dr. George Tiller was assassinated at his Wichita church by a pro-life fanatic in 2009, he became the eighth abortion clinic worker in America to be killed. At the time he was one of the country’s only doctors who performed third-trimester abortions. Tiller continued his work despite fulminations from extremist groups like Operation Rescue and pundits like Bill O’Reilly (who referred to him as “Tiller the Baby Killer”) and the threats that followed all that overheated rhetoric like a storm. He said at one point, “Everything has a risk to it.” That risk shrouds all the stories told in Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s hopeful, quietly optimistic documentary After Tiller; there’s a reason that none of the patients in the film have their faces shown…

You can watch the trailer here:

Now Playing: ‘Drinking Buddies’

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson get all twisted up in 'Drinking Buddies'.

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson get all twisted up in ‘Drinking Buddies’.

drinkingbuddies-posterThere’s not much to say about the Chicago microbrewery-set romantic comedy Drinking Buddies, which opened in limited release yesterday, other than you should probably go see it. Four great actors playing inside a comic quadrangle of lies, booze, and lust twisted all up with friendship. It’s achingly beautiful in that elegant French manner while remaining bruisingly down-to-earth.

My review is at Film Racket:

As the sole woman working at a Chicago brewery with a tribe of bearded, vaguely hipster guys in Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies, Olivia Wilde’s Kate seems to be that unicorn creature that every won’t-grow-up dude can’t believe exists outside the pages of Maxim. Resolutely non-girly in dress and attitude, she slams down beers with the guys and chows french fries at lunch. Come night-time, all she wants to do is play pool, joke around, and do yet more drinking. At no point does she look happier than when holding a full pint of beer and a mammoth tub of pretzels; this being a movie, she still looks phenomenal in a bikini…

Here’s the trailer: