In Theaters

There were two films that locked up most of the nominations at the 2009 Italian Academy’s David Di Donatello awards, and neither of them says anything good about the state of the Italian Republic. One of the films, Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah, was released in the United States near the end of 2008, and the other, Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo, follows it a few months later. Sorrentino’s film is another nation-indicting portrait of unimaginable corruption and moral rot that ropes in every social entity, ranging from the hallowed halls of the Vatican and Parliament to the grimiest Mafia den. But Il Divo is as showy as Gomorrah was spare, sometimes taking your breath away with its gutsy leaps of brilliance and sometimes acting like a bratty child desperate for attention…

Il Divo is playing in limited release now. Read the full review at

In Theaters

Joe Wright’s worlds-colliding drama The Soloist has so many strikes against it that it’s hard to imagine coming out the other end feeling anything but relief that it was over. Think of it: a based-on-a-true-story about a cold-hearted journalist who meets a mentally disturbed homeless man who just happens to be a world-class musician. Together, the two strike up a unique friendship against the backdrop of Los Angeles’s Dickensian skid row and imploding newspaper industry; a bright flower blooming from the crack in a downtown sidewalk. Also, one of the men happens to be black and the other white.

The Soloist, which somehow doesn’t suck, opens wide today. You can read the full, shocked review at

On the TV

The Beales of Grey Gardens have been the focus of creative interpretation for years. First the documentary, then another documentary, followed by a musical, a documentary about the musical, a book, and now—the HBO dramatization. Maybe the sitcom is to follow. It’s not hard to understand why so many artists have been entranced by the Beales and their tumbledown aristocratic manor. But it is perhaps time—particularly given the mediocrity of HBO’s Grey Gardens—that a halt be called…

Grey Gardens premiered on Saturday, and should be running on HBO over the next couple months. See it, or not. You can read the full review at PopMatters.

In Theaters

The making-of documentary — the few seen as works in their own right and not consigned to the second disc of a special edition DVD — is a tricky thing, as its audience is by definition limited to fans of the original work. James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo’s wonderful Every Little Step (subtitle: The Journey of “A Chorus Line” From its Beginnings) goes beyond those built-in limitations by being much more about the continuing impact of a theatrical milestone than the peculiarities of how it came about….

Every Little Step is in theaters now. You can read the full review at

In Books

In the modern era of the damaged private-eye, Paul Tremblay’s Mark Genevich — the hero of his new mystery, The Little Sleep — just about takes the cake. We’ve seen private eyes who suffer through all kinds of different maladies, from alcoholism to Tourette’s Syndrome to being chronically unable to tell dark-eyed dames “No”; but prior to the shambling and drowsy-eyed but acid-tongued Genevich there haven’t been many fictional investigators hampered by a difficulty with the perception of reality itself…

The full review of The Little Sleep can be found at PopMatters.

In Theaters

Right around the moment in Adventureland that desperately awkward James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) and fellow tortured soul Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart) go for a quiet drive in Em’s car, the cassette deck blaring Hüsker Dü’s “Don’t Want to Know If You’re Lonely” into the suburban night, it becomes clear who exactly this film is targeted at. Yes, it’s another moody evocation of not-so-great times past for those lovesick children of the 1980s who are closing in on middle age…

Adventureland is playing now and is most definitely worth your hard-earned money. Read the full article at Short Ends & Leader.

In Theaters

A treat in every sense of the word, Majid Majidi’s The Song of Sparrows starts in galloping rural comedy and meanders through urban neo-realism before winding itself up with a portrait of family life as resonant as just about anything that’s been seen on screen in recent years. Granted — to paraphrase an indie film executive from the 1990s — there’s just about nothing in the world (huge ad campaign, glowing reviews) that will convince American audiences to go see an Iranian film, no matter that the director’s 1997 work The Children of Heaven was nominated for a foreign film Oscar. But if filmgoers decide for once to break that stereotype and seek out Majidi’s sumptuous parable, they’ll find a real piece of beauty…

A Song of Sparrows is playing in limited release. See it now, if at all possible. You can read the full review at

In Theaters

Doing its best to further erase whatever pleasant memories (guilty or no) people may still have had from the 2001 original, Fast & Furious reunites The Fast and the Furious cast with much ballyhoo, only to kill one of them off in no time flat and leave viewers fairly unconcerned with what happens to the rest of them. Given that this third sequel is intent on treating the events of the origin film as some sort of holy text, this is probably not the effect that the filmmakers were going for…

Fast & Furious (no “the”s) is playing everywhere now, God help us. You can read the full review at

In Books

Rarely is it possible for fiction this night-haunted and tortured to have such ease and flow. But flow is what the writing of Richard Yates does, even though it may start off in social embarrassment and run through painful miscommunication and foolhardy self-delusion before ending in nearly catatonic despair. There is a pounding life and movement in his gloomy pages that helps stave off a reader’s sinking notion that things are going to turn out quite poorly indeed for all the sad suckers whose lives Yates is maneuvering with autobiographical clarity. It catches you up before smashing you down. (Don’t say you weren’t warned.)

The Everyman’s Library Richard Yates is available wherever finely wrought but grim as hell literature is sold. You can read the full review at PopMatters.