New in Theaters: ‘Take This Waltz’

Somewhere inside the full-tilt lovesick blur that is Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz is the kernel of a wildly uninteresting story. Woman in cozy relationship sans fireworks becomes attracted to new fella, with whom she has fireworks galore, but a dubious future. What to do: stay with husband or fly off with fling? Play the good wife or bad mistress? There’s a spinning galaxy of clichés for writer/director Polley to choose from here, but somehow she skips past them (well, almost all) and delivers a shimmering and raw ode to the ferocity of desire and the heartbreak that so often follows it…

Take This Waltz opened today in limited release. It’s only Polley’s second film as director but one that makes you hope for more, and soon. My full review is at Short Ends & Leader.

Now Playing: The Human Rights Watch Film Festival

The 2012 Human Rights Watch Film Festival is playing now at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center through June 28th, having already toured through Chicago, Toronto, Washington D.C. and other cities. As every year, there is an electric mix of documentaries and even some human rights-focused narrative films, and just about all are worth checking out, whether in the theater or when they make it to DVD. Full schedule is here, below are a few films of note:

Color of the Ocean and Call Me Kuchu – In these two films, African refugees struggle for a better life on a deceptively idyllic island, and activists oppose homophobia in Uganda.

Reportero and Words of Witness – Two powerful films remind us of the dangers borne by those who bear witness to the cruelties and chaos of states in violent flux.

Habibi and The Invisible War – Two films focus on the oppressions men impose during wartime.

New in Theaters: ‘Brave’

With a sterling roll call of British Isles vocal talent and some of the most lush and limpid animation to be found on screens this year, Pixar’s Brave is a feast for the eyes and ears, if not always the mind. Aimed more squarely at the younger set than many of their more adventurous fantasy outings like Wall-E, it’s a just-clever-enough take on an age-old and very classically Disney setup about a child and parent’s estrangement and rapprochement…

Brave is playing now in 2D and 3D and many other magical formats around the country. My full review is at Film Journal International.

New in Theaters: ‘Rock of Ages’

More karaoke playlist than anything else, Rock of Ages offers glimpses of the casting genius that characterized Adam Shankman’s Hairspray. But the charismatic pros assembled here seem repeatedly constrained rather than unleashed. Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin are the picture of bewigged ludicrousness as Lonny and Dennis, who run the Bourbon Room, a Sunset Strip den of iniquity that’s more CBGBs than Whisky-a-Go-Go and has attracted the ire of the mayor’s bluestocking wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Brand and Baldwin vamp in their “rock and roll” togs like it’s all good fun while she snarls her way through her scenes, a villain in a fresh-pressed Talbots pantsuit… 

Rock of Ages is failing to rock in theaters all across America right now. My full review is at PopMatters.

New in Books: ‘Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City’

Key to Guy Delisle’s easygoing, self-deprecating approach is this all-access take on his artistic endeavors. In theory, this should be a painfully navel-gazing type of thing; the artist trying to create his art generally being one of the most enervating brands of narrative. He makes this quest a running theme of his newest and likely greatest work, Jerusalem, looping it neatly into his explorations of this uniquely fractured city. In between his threading the needle of transportation, whether braving the epic traffic jams or just trying to find a cab that will take him to East Jerusalem, he is always stopping to note an especially spectacular site. Like most Westerners new to the Holy City, it’s nothing like what he expected. Unlike many of those visitors, fortunately, he takes everything in stride and eagerly experiences everything that he can…

The graphic memoir Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is on sale at better bookstores and online emporiums everywhere. My full review is at PopMatters.

New in Theaters: ‘The Intouchables’

If you feel confused at some point during The Intouchables, that may well be because you have the sensation of being in the wrong film. Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s film is ostensibly about a wealthy white Parisian quadriplegic being nursed by an untrained black man from the projects. This outline draws on some rather egregious race clichés, as well as conventions recalling a sports movie, in which the scrappy underdogs with more heart than skill band together to show up that team from the rich school. While this movie offers no sports, no big game, and very little structure at all, it still leaves the impression of the formula, in protagonists who repeatedly shock those who underestimate them and in tricky plot passages handled by the rousing musical montage. That it doesn’t all end in a tie-breaking three-point shot as the clock buzzes 00:00 makes for a potent disconnect… 

The Intouchables is playing in many cities now, expanding around the country later, likely to much acclaim. My full review is at PopMatters.

New in Theaters: ‘U.N. Me’

The thesis of Ami Horowitz and Matthew Groff’s attack documentary is sublimely simple: The United Nations is an incompetent shell of an organization barely able to manage its own personnel, much less live up to its mandate of protecting human rights and securing peace. It’s a shame that the filmmakers’ hyperactive style rushes viewers through a hasty slideshow of horrifying grievances instead of dwelling in any depth on more than a couple of them. It’s a double shame that Horowitz—who serves as the film’s nervy host/provocateur—gets in the way more often than not by trying to jam his half-Michael Moore, half-Sacha Baron Cohen persona into a film that would have been many times more powerful without it…

U.N. Me is playing now in way limited release. You can read my full review at Film Journal International.