Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Let the Bullets Fly

The circle may have finally closed on Tarantino-ization with this Chinese film, which seems to borrow as generously from QT as he borrowed from Hong Kong masters.

A gorgeously filmed chow fun western set about 100 years ago in southern China, in “the age of warlords,” as the opening titles put it, Let the Bullets Fly keeps tossing us curve balls, from its comic train robbery opening to its wry coda of an ending.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oscar-nominated shorts

Whether you’re a hard-core fan of short films or you just want to see as many nominees as possible before entering the office Oscar pool, there’s a lot to enjoy in this year’s Oscar-nominated shorts.

The strongest category is the documentaries, a parade of pain packaged with strong messages of hope and perseverance, so you don’t feel as if you’ve suffered for nothing.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Safe House

If the trailer for Safe House has you thinking you’ve seen it all before, you’d be right. But if you like a solidly made thriller with lots of fighting, that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying this one.

The déjà vu starts with the premise, which is part Training Day and part Haywire. As he did in Training Day, Denzel Washington plays an ethically compromised veteran of a law enforcement agency (this time around, the CIA) who schools a naïve recruit (Ryan Reynolds) on how things really work. And, as in Haywire and countless other spy-versus-spy movies, Denzel and Reynolds’s characters are agents on the run who must fight for their lives as they figure out who is trying to kill them and who—if anyone—they can trust.

Shot largely with that grainy, high-contrast, desaturated look that signals gritty reality in so many pictures these days, Safe House doesn’t do anything new, but it goes through its paces with style.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cirkus Columbia

If you admired the intent behind Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey but wished you could have seen it done with Eastern European indirection rather than big-footed American sensationalism, you’ll want to check out Cirkus Columbia.

As he did in No Man’s Land, writer-director Danis Tanovic sets this modest but not insubstantial film in his homeland of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early ‘90s. Tanovic adapted the script from a novel of the same name, which addresses the turmoil that ripped the former Yugoslavia apart by focusing on one broken family.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Secret World of Arietty

No wonder anime auteur Hayao Miyazaki had wanted to make a film about the Borrowers for pretty much his whole career, until he finally co-wrote this one a couple years ago. Mary Norton’s children’s books are a perfect match for Miyazaki’s adult-friendly children’s movies, with their strong female lead, their inventive take on living light on Mother Earth (what are Borrowers if not the ultimate recyclers?), and their deep respect for a child’s sensibilities.

But something softened that life force in The Secret World of Arietty, which feels as if it were made by Disney rather than just released by the mouse house here in the U.S.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Albert Nobbs

As numbingly inert as its title character, Albert Nobbs is a triumphant actor’s exercise that never quite succeeds as a movie.

That may be partly because its star, Glenn Close, is a co-writer and co-producer, having worked for years to get the movie made after playing the part onstage in 1982. But it probably has even more to do with director Rodrigo García (Mother and Child), whose films often feel a bit hollow and contrived despite featuring great performances by great actresses.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Dish and the Spoon

The light is beautiful, the backgrounds artfully softened, and the actors charming, but The Dish and the Spoon starts to flatline just a few minutes in.

We start out in a car with Rose (Greta Gerwig), sniffling her way through the Lincoln Tunnel in a winter coat and pjs. Greta makes Rose easy to relate to as she rolls past seedy strip malls, scarfing down doughnuts and beer. Then she picks up a soulful teenager (Olly Alexander) and her story quickly devolves into a series of scenes that feel like acting exercises.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Grey

The Grey is one of those macho-adventure-gone-terribly-wrong movies that aims to give you a vicarious scare, shaking you out of your over-civilized stupor and awakening you to the need to live life to the fullest and then die like a man, unafraid and unburdened by regret.

It opens with promise as John Ottway (Liam Neeson), hired by an oil company to kill the wolves that would otherwise kill the oilfield workers, stops a wolf in its tracks with one expertly fired bullet and then helps it die, laying a compassionate hand on the animal’s flank as it breathes its last ragged breaths. The terse authority of Neeson’s manly voiceover and the wolf that doesn’t so much as snarl when Ottway strokes it make it clear that we’re in mythic/fairy tale territory, and it’s a solemn, contemplative region I’d have been glad to commit to if director-cowriter Joe Carnahan had just done the same.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pretty Poison

One of the greatest actresses and beauties of her generation, Tuesday Weld had an emotionally raw yet subtle quality on camera and a brash, sometimes crude way of expressing contempt for Hollywood—-and for social mores in general—-in real life that made more than one admirer compare her to Marlon Brando. But there doesn’t seem to have been room in the pantheon for an actress who was so openly defiant and independent-minded, especially during the gender-inflexible Eisenhower and Kennedy years when she got her start. So, while postwar Hollywood made Brando the poster boy for naturalistic method acting at its brilliant best, Weld became a cult figure, celebrated by those of us who love her for the feral intelligence and world-weary skepticism that make her characters so compelling even when the movies she’s in are … well, let’s just say not so compelling.

But when the film she stars in is as fierce or unconventional as the actress, you’re in for a real treat. That’s the case with Pretty Poison, a black comedy with then 23-year-old Weld in the title role as teen heartthrob Sue Ann Stepanek.