Now Playing: ‘The Drop’

Tom Hardy, faithful dog, and Noomi Rapace in 'The Drop' (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Tom Hardy, faithful dog, and Noomi Rapace in ‘The Drop’ (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

With a screenplay by Dennis Lehane (Mystic RiverShutter Island), an Oscar-nominated director (Michaël R. Roskam, for Bullhead), and an Oscar-worthy turn by Tom Hardy, The Drop would seem to have plenty of ability to overcome its status as a run-of-the-mill crime drama about a mob-linked bar in Brooklyn. Whether it does or doesn’t is up for debate; the genius of Hardy’s performance shouldn’t be.

The Drop is playing in most markets around the country now. My review is at PopMatters:

The response of your average cineaste, upon hearing the words “In Brooklyn…” in a film’s opening narration, is to look for the nearest exit. What follows is too frequently more mythologizing than storytelling. The borough is transformed from specific place to psychic landscape, full of tribal loyalties and tight bonds, where the begrimed and as-yet ungentrified street scene indicates bootstrapping and self-policing pride. Cops not needed here.

However, if you follow your instincts and bolt at the start of Michael R. Roskam’s sturdy and bleak noir The Drop, you miss Tom Hardy creating a thing of beauty yet again…

You can see the trailer here:

Now Playing: ‘Bad Words’

Jason Bateman has been crafting comedy genius for so long in front of the camera that it’s perhaps inevitable he would eventually move behind it as well. Bad Words is his directorial debut, a promising and blessedly short if wildly uneven hour-and-a-half of rude comedy about a misanthropic adult who crashes a kids’ spelling bee.

Bad Words is still playing just about everywhere. My review is at PopMatters:

Guy Trilby is custom-made for Bateman’s perfected admixture of laconic sharpness. Instead of the more explosive brand of destabilizers favored by US comedy, your John Belushis and Will Ferrells, Bateman upends the norms of this closed micro-society of over-schooled spelling quants by having Trilby simply plant himself there and refusing to move or explain his motivations. Occasionally he’ll try to get a leg up in competition by upsetting his preteen opponents with some verbal guerrilla warfare. But in the main, Trilby is a stoic pillar of nasty. (Having played the put-upon and exasperated nice guy in everything from Arrested Development to Identity Thief, Bateman gets some mileage here out of going so far to the dark side.) He’s Bartleby, and will not be moved…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Lone Survivor’

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Lone_Survivor_PosterWith a resume that includes everything from Battleship to Friday Night Lights, Peter Berg isn’t the first guy you would think of to have made one of the modern era’s great combat films. But nevertheless, there he is with a directing and writing credit on Lone Survivor, a tough and emotionally draining film about a doomed Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan in 2005.

Lone Survivor opens in limited release this week, rolling out more broadly in January. My review is at Film Journal International:

If not for the real-life footage that bookends Peter Berg’s adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s nonfiction bestseller, Lone Survivor would come close to tipping right into another hero-worshipping chronicle of the special-operations soldiers so beloved by today’s Xbox-playing couch warriors. But the story hasn’t even begun and already Berg has you immersed in images of SEAL trainees getting systematically broken down to the point of tears. Before the choppers rev up and the men fly off into the Afghanistan mountains to go Taliban-hunting, you’ve already witnessed the limits they have been pushed to…

Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘Repo Man’

Emilio Estevez gives his best punk-rock face in 'Repo Man'

Emilio Estevez gives his best punk-rock face in ‘Repo Man’

repoman-dvdAt first it might seem strange that the folks over at Criterion would bother putting out an edition of Repo Man. After all, isn’t it really a film meant to be watched on a bad $2 bargain-bin DVD or a miserably grainy VHS tape from a decades-old cable broadcast? Possibly, but on new viewing, this is one of those cult films that actually deserves getting this treatment, brand-spanking new transfer, deleted scenes and all.

From my review at Film Racket:

The scuzz-punk doom comedy of Alex Cox’s 1984 underground touchstone makes for a creepy visitation from a fracturing society. Released at the midpoint of the Reagan era’s celebration of suburban consumerism, it had a gutter-level view of Los Angeles’ bleached-out sprawl and social entropy. Its characters tend toward the feral: repo men who hunt the cars whose owners can’t pay up, shotgun-toting punks, cold-eyed federal agents, or bugged-out cult followers. Hints of an oppressive police state are everywhere, and the scent of nuclear apocalypse is on the land. In the middle of all the science-fiction-tinged end-times bleakness, though, Cox mines a catchphrase-studded seam of absurdist humor that’s one of the film’s most durable qualities…

Here’s the trailer, in all its grotty gloriousness:

New in Theaters: ‘It’s a Disaster’

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And so begins the last couples’ brunch of the 21st century…

its_a_disaster posterAlmost perfectly designed to come and go quickly from theaters, leaving mostly silence but a few nattering and persistent fans in its wake, It’s a Disaster is a tart comedy for chilly times. From my review at Film Journal International:

The current vogue for apocalypse stories gets a refreshing redo in Todd Berger’s nimble comedy about a miserable brunch that turns only mildly more sour after the realization that everyone is just hours away from death. The lack of both zombies and stars, not to mention the inside-out mockery of genre tropes, will keep wider audiences at a distance. But strong word of mouth could result in a small cult hit, at least among those who don’t mind a film whose attitude toward its doomed characters is simple and damning: Good riddance…

It’s a Disaster opened yesterday in very limited release; find it however and wherever you can.

Here’s the trailer:

 

 

New in Theaters: ‘Upstream Color’

Amy Seimetz and Shane Carruth try to figure out whose memories are whose in 'Upstream Color'

Amy Seimetz and Shane Carruth try to figure out whose memories are whose in ‘Upstream Color’

upstream-color-posterAlmost a decade ago, Shane Carruth made a tight little puzzler of a science-fiction film called Primer about engineers who accidentally create a time machine; the results make Inception look as easy to decipher as a Michael Bay film.

For his second film, a just-as-puzzling but wider-ranging psychological experiment going under the name Upstream Color, he broadened his scope and palette, throwing a love story into the midst of a mesmerizing thriller about a bizarre kidnap plot. The result is obfuscating, but in a gorgeous and possibly life-illuminating way.

Upstream Color just opened in limited release; it should be sneaking into smarter cinemas around the country over the next couple of months. Expect it to show up on a lot of most-loved and most-hated lists at the year’s end.

My full review is at Film Journal International.

You can watch the trailer here; it’s a beautiful thing to behold.