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:

Department of Awards: ‘Whiplash’ Gets Bloody

Miles Teller drums and J.K. Simmons berates in 'Whiplash' (Sony Pictures Classics"

Miles Teller drums and J.K. Simmons berates in ‘Whiplash’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

A brutal and (literally) bloody musician’s tale that’s about many, many other things besides music (surprise), Whiplash was the little awards film that could. While never quite making a splash along the lines of a Boyhood or The Imitation Game, it plugged along for months on little more than sheer word of mouth. Just like movies used to do.

Whiplash, which was ultimately nominated for five Oscars, will be available next week on DVD and Blu-ray. My review is at Film Racket:

In Damien Chazelle’s steam-heated pressure cooker, socially maladroit student Andrew (Miles Teller) is determined to be a brilliant jazz drummer. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the demon-teacher at a New York music conservatory who Andrew thinks guards the entrance to greatness, sees potential in this student but won’t let him past without a serious flaying. From the second Andrew steps into Fletcher’s studio band, the insults and cutting remarks fly from Fletcher’s lips. The only question seems to be how long Andrew can tough it out. But since he and Fletcher have a surprising amount in common, the story then becomes more about who will outlast the other…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Ballet 422′

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Justin Peck directs his dancers in ‘Ballet 422′ (Magnolia Pictures)

In the new documentary Ballet 422, one of New York City Ballet’s dancers is given the opportunity to choreograph the company’s 422nd original ballet. Only he also has to dance a different program the night that his ballet premieres, and he’s got just two months to pull it all together.

Ballet 422 is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

There is no such thing as a permanent piece of art. Paper yellows, paint cracks, celluloid burns, memories fade. But compared to those ephemeral forms, dance is even more transitory. The choreography can be recorded, but not the swing of limb and flair of line that exists for a moment on stage and then only for those who happen to witness it. Jody Lee Lipes’ sinuous documentary about a dancer at the New York City Ballet who’s given two months to choreograph an original ballet would seem to be an attempt to capture that fleeting sensation on film. But instead, it highlights the vast gulf between the great expanses of time given to creating an artwork and the finger-snap speed with which it can be delivered, and possibly forgotten …

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Mad as Hell’

Cenk Uygur getting ready for his closeup in 'Mad as Hell' (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Cenk Uygur getting ready for his closeup in ‘Mad as Hell’ (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Never heard of Cenk Uygur? Well, at one point, his two-fisted shouter of a program was the most watched news-ish program on the Internet. Then, a few years back, when MSNBC was looking for new faces, they tried him out. Things didn’t work out so well.

Mad as Hell, the documentary about Uygur’s unusual rise to media sort-of stardom, opens this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Cenk Uygur doesn’t have a typical biography for an online news sensation. Brought to America by his Turkish parents at the age of eight, Uygur started down a path that would make many immigrant parents delirious with pride: first getting his business degree from Wharton, and then a law degree from Georgetown, before moving into corporate practice. According to Uygur’s many friends interviewed in Andrew Napier’s chummy documentary Mad as Hell, in college he was “annoying” and a “loudmouth” who loved spouting off and starting fights with his in-your-face opinions. The Uygur who appears in the film, a forward-thrusting type with a casual approach to fact-checking and a bullying-football-coach approach to debate, fits that description to a tee. A love-or-hate kind of guy, in other words…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Song of the Sea’

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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: ‘Happy Valley’

Painting over Jerry Sandusky at the Penn State mural in 'Happy Valley' (Music Box Films)

Painting over Jerry Sandusky at the Penn State mural in ‘Happy Valley’ (Music Box Films)

The newest documentary from Amir Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story) is another troubling story about an insular culture reacting with fury to a scandal that threatens their self-created mythology.

I reviewed Happy Valley as part of the DOC NYC festival. It’s opening this week in limited release; my review of Happy Valley (as well as the D.C. punk documentary Salad Days, which also screened at DOC NYC) is at PopMatters:

If Amir Bar-Lev’s superb Happy Valley is any indication, the arguments in the Penn State community over the Jerry Sandusky scandal will not be ending anytime soon. As with most scandals that flare into the national consciousness amid intersecting nodal points of volatility (regional identity, sexual crimes, sports), what actually happened ultimately has little to do with how it plays out with public opinion. Just so, the film sidelines some of the who-what-when to examine the lingering dust clouds of disappointment, rage, and conspiratorial invective…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘The Homesman’

Tommy Lee Jones in 'The Homesman' (Roadside Attractions)

Tommy Lee Jones in ‘The Homesman’ (Roadside Attractions)

In the quasi-Western The Homesman, Tommy Lee Jones plays a claims-jumper in 1850s Nebraska who gets roped into helping a tough-minded spinster (Hilary Swank) cart three insane women to safety in Iowa. Jones, who looks less and less comfortable in modern garb these days, also directed and co-wrote the screenplay.

The Homesman opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

“I live uncommonly alone,” says Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) in Tommy Lee Jones’ adaptation of Glendon Swarthout’s novel about a raw frontier where solitude and madness are constant companions. The Homesman tries to cut a mordant, witty Coen Brothers line between tragedy and comedy and can’t quite manage either. More particularly, it never knows quite what to make of Cuddy, who is at once valorized as a heroically staunch figure and at the same time mocked for her stiff manner and panicky ways…

Here’s the trailer: